Mortlock opens door to Wallabies' first title

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The Independent Online

Stirling Mortlock landed a touchline penalty with the last kick of the game to earn Australia a 19-18 win over South Africa in Durban yesterday and hand the world champions their first Tri-Nations title at the fifth attempt.

Stirling Mortlock landed a touchline penalty with the last kick of the game to earn Australia a 19-18 win over South Africa in Durban yesterday and hand the world champions their first Tri-Nations title at the fifth attempt.

Until the wing's dramatic intervention, it looked as though the home side might scrape to victory after their fly-half Braam van Straaten had kicked his sixth successful penalty of the match from 55 metres in the fifth minute of injury time.

In stark contrast to the Springboks' expansive defeat of the All Blacks last week in Johannesburg, yesterday's contest was a dour, tight affair with both teams conceding more penalties than expected.

The Wallabies scored the only try of the match in the 39th minute when their full-back Chris Latham touched down in the left-hand corner to give the visitors a 13-6 interval lead.

Mortlock, who converted the try, kicked a total of four penalties to finish with a personal haul of 14 points - four less than Van Straaten.

South Africa crossed their opponents' tryline twice in the opening half, but were denied both times. First the scrum-half Werner Swanepoel bustled over only to be called back by the New Zealand referee Paul Honiss, who had spotted the ball going forward. Then Rassie Erasmus intercepted a pass by the Australian scrum-half George Gregan after a line-out and crashed over. Like the referee, television replays were unable to confirm whether Erasmus had grounded the ball.

South Africa hit back hard after the break, battering away at the visitors' defences in a bid to extend their recent revival by chalking up a second successive victory in a Tri-Nations series which has witnessed much sublime rugby. In a season blessed with close matches and thrilling finishes, the Australian captain John Eales had slotted a penalty with the final kick of the game three weeks ago to give his side a 24-23 victory over New Zealand in Wellington.

The low point of yesterday's match, played at a furious pace but littered with errors, came in the 18th minute of the second half when Australia's replacement loose forward, Matt Cockbain, was shown the yellow card for punching Erasmus. However, even though Cockbain was sin-binned for 10 minutes the South Africans were unable to take advantage

The visitors' fly-half Stephen Larkham's normally unflappable play was disrupted by some ferocious tackling from the Springbok loose trio, and as a result the sniping breaks that are so much a feature of the Wallaby play were absent.

Honiss, officiating in his 14th Test, seemed intent on keeping flaring tempers in check rather than allowing play to develop from broken play. As a result, the match never really exploded into any kind of spectacle.

South Africa played the whole second half without their captain Andre Vos, who left the field after taking a blow to the head.

South Africa: T Delport; C Williams, G Esterhuizen, R Fleck, B Paulse; B van Straaten, W Swanepoel; R Kempson (O le Roux, 40), C Marais (J Smith, 74), C Visagie, C Krige, M Andrews (A van der Berg, 70), J Erasmus (van der Berg, 55-70), A Venter, A Vos (capt; W Brosnihan, 40).

Australia: C Latham; S Mortlock, D Herbert, J Little, J Roff (B Tune, 70; R Kafer, 76); S Larkham, G Gregan; R Harry (G Panaho, 70), M Foley (J Paul, 31), F Dyson, J Eales (capt), D Giffin, M Connors (T Kefu, 50), D Wilson, J Williams.

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).

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