Springboks 23 (20) - 12 (12) Wallabies
The Springboks put in another work in progress performance as they played their part in keeping the Rugby Championship nominally alive by beating Australia in Port Elizabeth yesterday.
Rassie Erasmus’ team will kick themselves for an outing in which they finally were quick out the of blocks, but simply failed to kick on, allowing the visitors back into the game before relegating them to yet another defeat in this city (the Wallabies have yet to win in Port Elizabeth).
In so doing, the Boks won their third game in five, a non-bonus points victory that meant they stayed in the hunt to theoretically contest the championship, depending on what happened with the table-topping All Blacks versus Argentina match in Buenos Aires overnight.
One of the great mysteries for South African fans is why the Boks find it so difficult to beat Australia despite a discernible disparity of quality between the sides in the past five years or so. This game was probably as apt an explanation as any – the simple answer being that the Aussies have more capacity between the ears.
Despite jumping to a 7-0 lead from an Aphiwe Dyantyi try, which came 25 seconds into the game thanks to an intercept pass across his try line, the hosts then gave a textbook display in spurning opportunities.
The first came from Dyantyi dropping a pass he would back himself nine times out of 10 after a half-break and give by fullback Willie le Roux. With a man to beat in space most would also have banked on him scoring, but the 12th-minute chance went untaken.
Five minutes later, it was captain Siya Kolisi’s turn for a little brain fade, this after the Boks had fashioned a break from inside their 22m line. Kolisi found himself in space on the wing, but got try line fever a full 50m away when he failed to pass to a free Le Roux on his inside for what would have been a score under the posts.
Add persisting with the rolling maul when a) the problems with the line-out ball to the tail persist, and b) referee Jérôme Garcès was barely policing the fact that the Wallabies were coming in from the side in their desperate attempts to defend the drive, and you have a Bok team still struggling with its collective game management.
Taking the most obvious of the penalties that resulted in those mauls would – with the spurned try-scoring opportunities and scrum half Faf de Klerk’s 21st-minute try – have taken the Boks north of 30 points with the visitors having not scored. This is still test match rugby, after all.
The sad thing about all of that was that the hosts had frittered away a rare good start accompanied by stinging physicality, a vengeful defence, a scrum on the front foot and an Eben Etzebeth-dominated line-out.
Given that many chances to finally gain a foothold in the match, the visitors – aided and abetted in no small part by the hosts’ wayward kicking game – finally accepted the invitation. Both their tries originated from De Klerk up and unders, which found two of the visitors’ best exponents of the high ball, winger Israel Folau and fullback Dane Haylett-Petty.
The former’s catch ultimately led to centre Reece Hodge’s 26th minute try and the latter to scrum half Will Genia scoring four minutes later. Both tries showed while the Bok defensive system – which was punctuated by liberal big hits by Kolisi, Malcolm Marx and Pieter-Steph du Toit – was improving with each outing, the best place to breach it is still out wide.
The second half was a case of much effort and little to show for it on the scoreboard – the 40 minutes yielded a solitary Handrè Pollard penalty – until Dyantyi’s sin-binning in the 65th minute for a deliberate knock-on made things interesting by pitting 14 Boks to the full compliment of Wallabies.
But even then, the Bok defence – led by Kolisi – was resolute, producing Aussie knock on after Aussie knock on in attack despite Erasmus choosing to bring on only two pairs of fresh legs in Marco van Staden (for Sikhumbuzo Notshe) and Bongi Mbonambi (for Marx).
“Could do better” will be the coaching staff’s comments, but a win is a win – especially against these Aussies.