South Africa's hopes of successfully defending their Rugby World Cup title took another dent when the host Springboks fell to Australia, who rallied for a 14-9 win.
Wallabies send Boks to third Tri Nations defeat
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA // South Africa's hopes of defending their Rugby World Cup title were dealt a setback Saturday when they were beaten 14-9 at home by Australia in their Tri Nations Test, their third successive defeat this season.
Pat McCabe, the Wallabies centre, scored a 48th-minute try to help drag Australia back from a 6-0 half-time deficit at Kings Park, Durban, and on to a fourth win in their last five matches against South Africa.
The Springboks recalled 16 senior players from injury for their first home game of the season, but the rusty returning Boks could not convert their first-half dominance into a much-needed win ahead of the start of their world title defence next month.
Instead, McCabe's score, from an overlap in the right corner, and three penalties from James O'Connor gave Australia victory, and a major boost ahead of next month's World Cup. The win also keeps alive Australia's chances of a first Tri Nations title since 2001.
"The first half was very tight, they put us under some pressure, but the boys responded," Stephen Moore, the Australia hooker, said.
"We spoke about it at half-time, that we had to hang on for 80 minutes, and it was good to come through there. We didn't necessarily play that pretty - we toughed it out there and dug pretty deep."
Under pressure to steady a shaky World Cup build-up, South Africa could not convert their territorial advantage in the first half as the returning players struggled to hit top gear. Butch James missed a penalty in front of the posts in the 21st minute, and Jaque Fourie, the centre, was denied a try by a knock-on inside the Wallabies' in-goal area.
Australia occasionally threatened wide, through their fullback, Kurtley Beale, and O'Connor, the winger, but the Springboks had the better field position and attacking opportunities of the first 40 minutes.
The Wallabies responded after the break, sending McCabe on early in the second half and turning improved field position into three goals by O'Connor.
South Africa faded as the rain came down in the east coast city, and Australia played with greater accuracy on the slippery grounds.
"It was very difficult in these conditions, but again it was not good enough," said Victor Matfield, the South Africa lock. "We are Springboks in South Africa, we should win. It was positive, in the way we started, [but] we will have to get better next week [when they play New Zealand] and then another few weeks of hard work before the World Cup."