Rathbone's dash breaks Springbok hearts

Australia 30 - South Africa 26
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Alas, the anguish of a rugby team's growing pains. For the second week running, South Africa's new side performed well early on, led at half-time but declined alarmingly in the second half, losing this Tri-Nations match before a 42,500 crowd at Perth's Subiaco Oval.

Alas, the anguish of a rugby team's growing pains. For the second week running, South Africa's new side performed well early on, led at half-time but declined alarmingly in the second half, losing this Tri-Nations match before a 42,500 crowd at Perth's Subiaco Oval. Jake White's Springboks left a saddened, frustrated but wiser crew after an enervating four weeks in New Zealand and Australia.

This was a match of surprising twists and turns - defences were paramount yet seven tries were scored. Indeed, to score six tries in a week against New Zealand and Australia without a win is the height of frustration for the Springboks.

But truth to tell, they just aren't yet good enough to close down a game and grind out a win. At 16-7 after more than half an hour, they had the launchpad to ruin Wallaby skipper George Gregan's 100th Test celebrations. But the Springbok forwards struggled after half-time and their line-out imploded, as they lost eight of their own throws. Worse still, Wallaby fly-half Stephen Larkham rebuilt his confidence after his atrocious performance against the All Blacks in Wellington, steering his side home with a man-of-the-match display.

The attacking angles the Wallaby backs cut in open play were something their South African counterparts could only dream of. There was a creativity and cunning to the Australian game that the South Africans have yet to acquire.

Despite their dire start, it was Australia who scored the first try of the game. Percy Montgomery misjudged Larkham's kick to the corner, allowing Lote Tuqiri to snatch it and score. But South Africa replied with a try from Jaco van der Westhuyzen, created by Breyton Paulse's run and Jean de Villiers' kick to the line.

South Africa steadily built on that advantage. Montgomery added a second penalty goal and De Villiers intercepted Larkham's pass to sprint 55 metres into the corner. If they scored again at 16-7, the Springboks might have been too far ahead. But instead, Larkham glided onto attack with his trademark gait and drove through a couple of tackles for a try. Matt Giteau could not convert but when he landed a penalty right on half-time, South Africa's lead was down to 16-15.

The Australians raised their game in the second half. Giteau and Montgomery exchanged penalties before Larkham stood up prop Eddie Andrews and put Chris Latham over for a try. But substitute Gaffie du Toit snapped up De Wet Barry's kick to the line for a try that restored South Africa's lead at 26-23.

But whatever their failings the Wallabies always shows spirit and a determination to prevail. Tuqiri, Stirling Mortlock and Larkham opened the defence and Larkham sent South African-born Clyde Rathbone into the corner for the crucial score. The Springbok coach Jake White, who coached Rathbone in the South African under-21s before the wing moved to Australia, said: "Watching that bloody No 14 gold jersey dive into the corner was what hurt me most." Substitute Matthew Burke converted from the touchline and the desperate South Africans could not come back. It was a bitterly frustrating outcome to lose once again so narrowly. The Australian coach Eddie Jones said: "It was a really impressive performance by us because South Africa are a very good side and are a lot fitter than they were." Wallaby captain Gregan added: "I thought it was a high quality game. Both teams went out to play positive rugby and there was a high skill level."

Australia: C Latham; C Rathbone, S Mortlock, M Giteau, L Tuqiri; S Larkham, G Gregan (capt); B Young, J Paul, A Baxter, J Harrison, N Sharpe, G Smith, P Waugh, D Lyons.

Replacements: M Burke for Giteau, 64 min; D Vickerman for Harrison, 68; J Roe for Smith, 68; M Dunning for Young, 74.

South Africa: P Montgomery; B Paulse, M Joubert, De Wet Barry, J de Villiers; J Van der Westhuyzen, F Du Preez; O Du Randt, J Smit (capt), E Andrews, B Botha, G Britz, S Burger, A J Venter, J Cronje.

Replacements: J Van Niekerk for Burger, 30-36 (blood); G du Toit for de Villiers, 40; C J Van der Linde for Andrews, 58.

Referee: C White (England).

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