In an incredible game in Wellington Australia overcame South hemisphere rivals South Africa. Despite being on the back foot for the majority of the game, the Wallabies played with pride and belief and snuck through.
It was clear from the outset how Australia were going to play the game. There would be an emphasis on turning the ball over in contact giving their backs the chance to counter attack in broken play. At every breakdown there seemed to be a sea of gold shirts, led by Pocock who throughout the game made 25 successful tackles, attempting to rip or jackal the ball. This paid dividends for the first 20 minutes as the Wallabies raced to an early lead.
The Springboks did have the lion share of early possession however. It was on ten minutes that a promising South African attack was turned over and allowing Cooper to relieve the pressure. Following the resulting line-out Burger spilled the ball in contact allowing a swarm of gold shirts to surge towards the loose ball. McCabe gathered the ball before slipping a pass to captain Horwill who crashed over for the first points.
The Wallabies seemed invigorated by the score and looked to pile the on pressure. A scintillating break from full back Beale gave them further field position. As the forwards took on the attack a penalty was drawn from the Springboks, allowing James O’Connor to slot over a further 3 points to extend the Wallaby lead to 8 points to nil.
South African problems deepened as Brussow was forced off the pitch due to injury. It did not seem to affect the Springboks as by this time they were looking to make an impact on the scoreboard. Wave after wave of attack was launched towards the Australian line. Yet every time an attack was launched Australia had an answer. Whether it was a last ditch scrambled defence, a well organised attack at the breakdown or a cheeky hand into a ruck. There seemed no way through for the Springboks.
Having missed an earlier penalty, it wasn’t until the 36th minute that Steyn finally got the South Africans on the scoreboard through a simple penalty conversion. Minutes later he missed another long range penalty. Whereas it was a relief to finally be on the scoreboard before half-time, it was little reward for 40 minutes of rugby that saw the Springboks having 84% of the territory and 55% of the possession.
It was evident from the start of the second half that South Africa wanted to make amends for their lack of points in the second half. There was added impetus in their play, which was more direct and more accurate. On 46 minutes it looked like they had score as De Villiers sent Lambie over the line, but play was called back by referee Bryce Lawrence for a forward pass. Minutes later the Springboks were once again pulled up for the same offence; replays however showed that on this occasion the pass was not forwards much to the anger of the men in green.
The introduction of du Plessis in place of Smith had an immediate effect for the Springboks as he played a vital part in disrupting the Australian scrum. With the bit between their teeth South African pushed forward like men possessed. The Australian defence was beginning to show signs of cracking. First an infringement at the breakdown left Steyn with a straightforward opportunity to bring the score to within 2. Minutes later Steyn put his side ahead thanks to a well executed drop goal. As the game entered the final quarter, South Africa found themselves ahead for the first time.
Whereas the Springboks had an added enthusiasm during the second half, the Wallabies could not string together any form of possession. Their line-out was not functioning, the scrum was being beaten and there was no controlling influence in the backs; Cooper was trying to force the game but ultimately was making too many mistakes and costing his team vital possession. The ball seemed to live in the Australian 22 and every chance that the Wallabies had to clear possession backfired on them. The ball was dropped, charged down or spilled and if the ball was cleared it was straight back to the Springboks to run straight back at them or in the case of Lambie narrowly miss a speculative drop goal attempt.
Still as the clocked ticked into the final 10 minutes the Wallabies only trailed by a single point. With Berrick Barnes adding some control to the backline, they found themselves deep in the South African half for the first time in the second half. An infringement in the lineout gave James O’Connor a rare chance at goal to put Australia back in the lead. He duly slotted the ball over the posts giving Australia a surprise lead. It was then a case of holding on for dear life, just as they had for the previous 72 minutes.
As had happened throughout the game the Springboks launched wave after wave of attack, but could not get through the determined Australian defence. Passes started being dropped or not going to hand as the Springboks tried to force the game. They found themselves frustrated at referee Bryce Lawrence as decisions seemed to all be going the way of the Wallabies. Australia were by now slowing the game down play by play. With renewed vigor both sides brutally attacked the breakdown. In a final attempt South Africa surged into the Australia half looking for a penalty or drop goal opportunity, but it was to no avail as the ball was spilled forward.
All that was left to do was secure possession from the resulting scrum and kick the ball of the field. As the final whistle went the Australian players and crowd were sent into euphoria. Somehow they had been subject to one of the most one-sided games in the tournament but appeared victorious. It is credit to their team spirit that they never gave up belief that all they needed was to take their points when they were on offer. South Africa, on the other hand, were in a state of disbelief. They had done enough to win the game but just couldn’t get across the try line.
Pens: O’ Connor (2)
South Africa 9
Pens: Steyn (2)
Drop Goal: Steyn