The Springboks pulled off a major upset when they defeated the world champions Australia in the opening match of the Tri-Nations tournament at Newlands yesterday. South African rugby had been in disarray going into the game with not even their most fanatical supporters giving them much of a chance, even against the under-performing Wallabies. But the Boks prevailed due to strong defence and the brilliant kicking of fly-half Louis Koen, who contributed 16 points from four penalties and two conversions.
After only three minutes, the Springboks lost their full-back Jaco van der Westhuyzen to a knee injury. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Van der Westhuyzen's fleet-footed replacement, Brent Russell, provided the elusive spark which has been missing from the South African line-up this season.
The Wallabies opened the scoring when their full-back Matt Burke dropped a goal in the third minute. But from the restart the Boks launched a counter- attack and Russell rounded off some brilliant back play with an excellent try.
For the next quarter of an hour, the Australian pack struggled to establish their usual possession game and were frequently turned over. None the less, the Wallabies broke free of the shackles at last and went ahead again when Wendell Sailor crossed for a simple try after 24 minutes which Burke converted for a 10-7 lead.
South Africa levelled on the half-hour with a brilliant penalty by Koen from the left touchline and reclaimed the lead five minutes later when Koen slotted another long-range penalty. Then, just before the break, Russell fielded a cross-kick from Sailor on his 22 and started a counter-attack. After handling twice more, he found wing Stefan Terblanche who sent lock Victor Matfield over for a breathtaking try. Koen converted to give the Boks a 20-10 lead at the interval.
After a sustained spell of Wallaby pressure early in the second half, Springbok centre De Wet Barry was sin-binned for a professional foul. Australia scored almost immediately when Phil Waugh barged over from close range and Burke converted to cut the lead to 20-17.
Koen soon stretched the lead again with two more long-range penalties before Barry's return. Then Joe Roff completed a superb move to touch down in the left corner. Burke failed to convert and even though play swung from end to end in the last 20 minutes, the Springbok defence held firm to seal their fourth successive international victory.
South Africa 26
Tries: Russell, Matfield
Cons: Koen 2
Pens: Koen 4
Tries: Sailor, Waugh, Roff
Cons: Burke 2
Half-time: 20-10 Attendance: 50,000
South Africa: J van der Westhuyzen (B Russell, 3); S Terblanche, M Joubert (G Bobo, 40), D W Barry, T Delport; L Koen, J van der Westhuizen; L Sephaka, D Coetzee (D Santon, 68), R Bands (R Kempson, 48), B Botha (S Boome, 76), V Matfield, C Krige (capt; P Wannenburg, 44-48), W van Heerden, J Smith (Wannenburg, 70).
Australia: M Burke; W Sailor, M Rogers, S Kefu (S Larkham, 60), J Roff (L Tuqiri, 62); E Flatley, G Gregan (capt); B Young, B Cannon (A Freier, 72), P Noriega (B Darwin, 60), D Giffin, D Vickerman (N Sharpe, 60), D Lyons (O Finegan, 55), P Waugh, T Kefu.
Referee: S Walsh (New Zealand).
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