Tevita Kuridrani barged over after the full-time siren to secure Australia a 24-20 win over South Africa in a dramatic finish to their Rugby Championship opener on Saturday.
The Springboks led 13-7 at halftime and extended the margin to 13 points when Jesse Kriel scored on debut in the 45th, but Australia rallied with two tries in the last six minutes to produce a last-gasp victory.
After Matt Giteau missed a penalty attempt to equalize with two minutes to go, and with is team still trailing by three points, skipper Stephen Moore opted to kick for touch and push for a try when Australia was awarded another penalty in the dying seconds.
Australia won the ensuing lineout and barraged the line before Kuridrani burrowed over in the tackle of Springboks No. 8 Schalk Burger, just managing to ground the ball on the line.
“The boys just stuck at it I suppose,” Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said, trying to sum up the comeback. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t yell out ‘kick for goal’ on the last penalty. Just goes to show the mentality,” of the Wallabies.
“Coming back like that tonight, when we were down, will give them a lot of self-belief going forward.”
It was Cheika’s first win as coach in a test on home soil, and ended a run of three straight losses for the Wallabies. But for most of the match, the South Africans were in front and were playing better, more controlled rugby and dominating the breakdown, frustrating Australia’s efforts for quick phase ball.
The match turned early in the second half when flanker David Pocock made his return to the test arena after a two-year injury-enforced absence to give Australia some parity at the breakdown and Greg Holmes went on to prop the Wallaby scrum for the first time in eight years.
South Africa by that stage had replaced the entire front row, and missed the impact of hooker Bismarck du Plessis in particular at the set piece and around the field where he’d helped Burger and Francois Louw dominate at the breakdown.
The focus before the test was on the return of 32-year-old Giteau, ending a four-year exile to earn his 93rd test cap, and the restoration of Will Genia and Quade Cooper, returing from injury, in the halves.
The experience and guile of the veteran trio was tipped to overawe the young Springboks in midfield, who had a total of 12 caps between with Handre Pollard at flyhalf and Damian de Allende and Kriel in the centres.
But the Wallabies over-complicated their attack, and too much ball went astray. Genia was injured and replaced by Nick Phipps at halftime and Cooper didn’t finish the match, replaced by Matt Toomua’s more direct style.
In the end, it was the back-to-basics approach that got the Australians across the line.
South Africa took a 6-0 lead via two Pollard penalties before conceding the first try of the match to Australian winger Adam Ashley-Cooper, who took an inside ball from Cooper at second receiver in the 33rd minute.
But The Springboks responded with tries two minutes before and five minutes after the halftime break to lead 20-7.
Pollard put a high kick into the corner, which Bryan Habana batted back to Willie le Roux, who got a pass around behind a defender to send lock Etzebeth into the corner in the 38th. The 21-year-old Kriel cut back on an angle from the left touchline and beat three tacklers for a try in the 45th.
Both coaches made a string of changes, and momentum changed. Cooper kicked a penalty to make it 20-10 in the 55th and, after shoring up the scrum and matching the South African loose trio at the breakdown, the Wallabies started to dominate possession.
After pushing Burger back in-goal to win a five-yard scrum for Australia, Michael Hooper scored from close range in the 74th to make it 20-17.
Australia threw the ball into the last lineout after the siren sounded and, after spreading the ball to both sides, Kuridrani barged over and the TV official confirmed the clinching five-pointer. (AP)