Although a little rusty around the rims, SA powered through Australia to secure a beautiful triumph.
South Africa 35 (14) - 17 (10) Australia
Scrum half Herschel Jantjies announced himself to the international rugby fraternity with a man of the match performance that helped a so-called second-string Springbok side subdue a game Australia in their opening Rugby Championship match this evening.
The wee Stormers man had his fingerprints all over the game, scoring twice and falling just millimetres shy of a hat-trick. He was lightning quick with his service and threw in a typically strong defensive performance as the Boks took immense confidence from coach Rassie Erasmus’ decision to mix his team instead of playing an out-and-out first team.
Jantjies looked as if he’d been playing test rugby for years. Aside from his 11th-minute score, he gathered Pieter-Steph Du Toit’s rare kick ahead and was stopped just short of the try line, with Lood de Jager picking up and driving over.
It was his alertness that dislodged the ball at the base of a Wallaby 5m scrum just before half-time to restore the lead, and a burgled try down the blindside in the final quarter that secured his man of the match debut.
By half-time, Australian coach Michael Cheika, who has the bedside manner of an enraged rattlesnake at the best of times, would have been losing his mind thinking about the chances his team left on the table.
The Wallabies had been the better side of the two in the first half, with the exception of an age-old Achilles heel, the scrum. But, elsewhere, they were nothing short of professional.
Their discipline held as they conceded just two penalties; the better organisation of their line-out showing itself in the 100% record, as opposed to the takes spilled by the rusty De Jager; they gave as good as they got at a typically rowdy breakdown area; and there was an education to their kicking game one couldn’t attribute to the Boks.
Yet for all that, they went into the sheds four points behind because they failed to take two chances.
Centre Samu Kerevi’s forward pass voided flanker Lukhan Salakaia-Loto’s try in the 18th minute, while winger Dane Haylett-Petty undid his first try by knocking on after winning the chase to a kick ahead.
In all fairness, the Boks were a little disjointed on the night. While they were typically robust in defence, a lot of areas and “combinations” didn’t exactly click.
When it wasn’t ring-rust slowing down locks De Jager and Eben Etzebeth, it was a lack of telepathy between fly half Elton Jantjies with centres André Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel, with winger S’bu Nkosi not his usual explosive self.
But there was no shortage of good performances, with half backs Elton and Herschel happy as long as they didn’t have to kick out of hand, while number eight Francois Louw, playing more like an open side flank, was an absolute menace over the ball.
Louw’s first steal of the match led to the opening try of the game, via Herschel, who got an inside ball from Nkosi to beat last man Tom Banks after some slick work by Elton and Esterhuizen.
With Esterhuizen having been sin-binned in the first half, it was the visitors’ turn to get a man in the cooler, with replacement prop Taniela Tupou getting his marching orders in the 55th minute for a dangerous clean and paving the way for Nkosi’s redemption with a try two minutes later.
Once the hosts had that kind of lead, the rest of the game was practically played in their 22m line as they only added a consolation try (from Bernard Foley) during a late flurry towards the end.