Wallabies off the mark with a win

Date published: July 20 2008

Australia threw the Tri-Nations wide open by recording a tense 16-9 victory over South Africa in Perth on Saturday, with tries from Lote Tuqiri and Stirling Mortlock trumping three penalty goals from the visitors.

Australia threw the Tri-Nations wide open by recording a tense 16-9 victory over South Africa in Perth on Saturday, with tries from Lote Tuqiri and Stirling Mortlock trumping three penalty goals from the visitors.

Australia held a narrow 5-3 lead at the break and maintained their advantage throughout the second period, but it took a last-minute drop goal from Berrick Barnes to finally kill off the South African challenge.

The Springboks, flying high after the win over New Zealand in Dunedin, had hoped to mark Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday with a win over the Wallabies at Subiaco Stadium. Alas, it was not to be. Yet there was a hint of a tribute to the great man: the visitors found themselves under lock and key for much of the match, bullied out of proceedings by their ruthless jailers.

Fans of the Springboks will point an accusing finger at the half-baked fixture list that deposited their team in Western Australia after two punishing meetings with the All Blacks.

The tourists duly lacked the spring in their step that accounted for New Zealand's five-year unbeaten run at home, and the Wallabies – fresh and fully fit – took full advantage of the opportunity.

But that shouldn't distracted from Australia's performance – the same system sent the stone-cold Wallabies into the fray against battle-hardened foe and it took them some time to find the requisite tempo from the standing start.

If only there was another big rugby nation that could even up the numbers and ensure two games per week; if only there was, say, a World Cup semi-finalist in the southern hemisphere that isn't currently involved in a major tournament and itching to play…

But we digress! Back to the action in Perth.

Tuqiri's try came from a terrific team set-up from a clever line-out, with Mortlock carrying three Springboks on his back to score the only try of the second half.

But Australia's captain soon went off with concussion after a knock to the head, leaving George Smith to take over the captaincy and lead the team to victory as he became the most-capped Wallabies forward of all time.

The Springboks were well led by Juan Smith and Jean de Villiers, but the lack of a try on their last Tri-Nations Test of this trip was costly.

Penalty conversions to Francois Steyn and Butch James still left them seven points short.

South Africa opened the scoring six minutes in when Steyn converted a penalty kick.

The Springboks had their best chance to get a try 32 minutes in when hooker Schalk Brits, who came in for the suspended Bismarck du Plessis, could have put Bryan Habana in out wide, but he held onto the ball and Hynes brought him down.

The Wallabies made them pay just minutes later with the only try of the first half.

A line-out fell into the arms of Smith who was waiting out back and after terrific passes from Elsom, Nathan Sharp, Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tuqiri crossed in the corner.

Giteau missed the conversion, but the Australians led 5-3 at the break.

The Wallabies made a great start to the second half with Mortlock crossing for a tremendous try to see them up 10-3. Mortlock pushed off a Springbok tackler, then carried three more on his back to walk over and ground the second try of the match.

Giteau and James then converted opposing penalties soon after to see the Wallabies still lead 13-6.

But what looked a poor late tackle call from referee Bryce Lawrence almost led to a Springbok try with 15 minutes to go.

The referee ruled Giteau had tackled JP Pietersen late, when Giteau appeared to have been just run into after the South African kicked.

The resulting line out saw Habana get to the try line, but Ryan Cross helped knock the ball out just before it was grounded.

It was Habana's last action as he immediately came off and iced his shoulder, and with 10 minutes to go Steyn kicked his second penalty to put the Springboks within four.

The South Africans continued to attack, but the Australia defence held firm before Barnes sealed the victory with a drop goal with a minute remaining.

Man of the match: Juan Smith was outstanding for the Boks, as was third-choice hooker Schalk Brits – quite why he was replaced so early in the game is a mystery. Matt Giteau was in commanding form behind an impressive gold scrummage, as was the industrious Peter Hynes and the indomitable Stirling Mortlock. But it was Australia's loose forwards who stole the show, completely dominating their illustrious opposite numbers. Wycliff Palu was his usual muscular self, George Smith was solid in defence and quick-witted in attack, but Rocky Elsom pips them to the post with a display of cunning physicality.

Moment of the match: Tendai Mtawarira's burst out of his own 22 will go down in propping folklore, but the moment of the match is surely Australia's opening try. All students of the game would do well to study its composition – it was simple rugby, well executed.

Villian of the match: Could it be the man who butchered the Australian anthem by adding an extended warble to the final note? Or perhaps Bakkies Botha for what seemed a rather unsavoury shoulder-first challenge on Stirling Mortlock?

The scorers:

For Australia:
Tries: Tuqiri, Mortlock
Pen: Giteau
Drop: Barnes

For South Africa:
Pens: Steyn 2, James

The teams:

Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Peter Hynes, 13 Stirling Mortlock (c), 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 George Smith, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 James Horwill, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Hugh McMeniman, 19 Phil Waugh, 20 Sam Cordingley, 21 Ryan Cross, 22 Drew Mitchell.

South Africa: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Francois Steyn, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Enrico Januarie, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 CJ van der Linde, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Brian Mujati, 19 Andries Bekker, 20 Ryan Kankowski, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Peter Grant.

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Television match official: Garrat Newman (New Zealand)
Assessor: Steve Hilditch (New Zealand)