A painful Tri-Nations campaign for South Africa continued on Saturday at Kings Park in Durban as they surrendered a six point half-time lead and lost 14-9 to Australia.
It was the third southern hemisphere championship reverse on the trot for the Springboks and while heavy losses in Australia and New Zealand were blamed on leaving 21 mainly senior stars at home, many returned to action for this match.
South Africa deservedly built a six point half-time advantage but could not maintain the momentum and lost some crucial breakdowns while their scrum came under pressure as the game progressed.
The Springboks have one more Test against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth next Saturday before launching their World Cup title defence against Wales in Wellington next month.
South Africa fielded a near full strength team boasting a world record 850 caps and were desperate to avenge a humiliating 39-20 loss in Sydney last month with a virtual ‘B’ team.
The first scoring chance in cool, windy conditions fell to the Springboks after three minutes when Wallabies skipper Rocky Elsom committed a dangerous tackle and France-based full-back Francois Steyn made no mistake from 45 metres.
Australia hit back and looked set to score in the left corner until South Africa outside centre Jacques Fourie intercepted a James O’Connor pass and the danger was eventually averted.
Much attention was on Springbok fly-half Butch James, making his first start in the green and gold jersey for three years after a spell playing for Bath in England, and he calmly slotted his first penalty kick between the posts on 16 minutes after the visitors infringed at a scrum.
But his second penalty shot at goal four minutes later drifted wide of the right post after the ball fell over and the 32-year-old seemed anxious as he went through his routine a second time.
Bok scrum-half Fourie du Preez was impressive on his return after a 21-month injury-induced absence and when Wallaby fly-half Quade Cooper failed to grasp a kick ahead, Fourie touched down only for the TMO to disallow the try for a knock-on.
Chances were few in a close first half fought predominantly between the 22-metre lines and James scuffed a drop kick attempt, O’Connor hooked his first penalty shot and Steyn was short with an ambitious drop goal effort.
Australia had a great opening 10 minutes into the second half that yielded an O’Connor penalty and a Pat McCabe try for an 8-6 advantage that stunned the home supporters.
O’Connor planted his penalty kick between the posts from close range and almost in front of the posts and he also featured in the slick handling that ended with inside centre McCabe having time and space to dot down near the corner flag.
South Africa were back in front by the hour mark thanks to a close range penalty kick from James only for Australia to edge ahead again at 11-9 on 66 minutes as O’Connor kicked his second penalty.
The mood of the crowd matched the dark rain-bearing clouds and another successful O’Connor penalty six minutes from full-time after a superb Wallabies scrum forced South Africa into conceding a penalty stretched the lead to five points. — AFP