Samu Kerevi of Australia tackled by Eben Etzebeth of the Springboks. Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Samu Kerevi of Australia tackled by Eben Etzebeth of the Springboks. Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Wasteful Wallabies lack polish when it matters

Forget the first moonlanding. The Wallabies made sure they kept a piece of unwanted history that dates even longer by butchering two tries in their 35-17 loss to South Africa in Johannesburg this morning.

No win at hostile Ellis Park for 56 years is now their record after costly misfires in a performance of heart, energy and some boldness yet never enough polish at key moments.

Sound familiar? Two badly botched tries in the first half were an eerie re-run of the exasperating missed chances of last year.

 

 

The first Test of the post-Israel Folau era also highlighted that the Wallabies can expect more pressure in the air. Reece Hodge and Dane Haylett-Petty contested well for kicks but a few went loose as well.

The Boks took all five of their five chances. That's why centre Samu Kerevi and winger Dane Haylett-Petty should both be harsh on themselves for blowing two certain five-pointers.

The Wallabies didn't take theirs when they had 61 per cent of first half possession and the intensity of the Springboks' defence meant there were never going to be many opportunities.

Michael Hooper never stopped trying for Australia. Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Michael Hooper never stopped trying for Australia. Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images

 

"I believe we showed a lot of good signs (even though) I know that people may not see that in the result," coach Michael Cheika said.

"It's the first time we've put some of the things we're doing out on the field and it will build as the season goes on.

"We created a lot of good opportunities and we gave a couple away as well.

"I was impressed with the skill sets of our forwards when they were under pressure from a South African team which clearly had a rush defence mindset (but) how we can get them into the game in the right areas of the field is something we'll look at."

On new No. 8 Isi Naisarani, Cheika was delighted with his debut while halfback Nic White also stepped up.

"I thought Naisarani had an excellent debut, he was involved in the game, he didn't have a very high error count and he was present all the time. He made some crucial catches and he defended with physicality," Cheika said.

"I thought White was very good, he marshalled the troops well and I really rated the way he played the game."

 

Eben Etzebeth of the Springboks fights for possession with Tom Banks of Australia off a high kick. Picture: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Eben Etzebeth of the Springboks fights for possession with Tom Banks of Australia off a high kick. Picture: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The Wallabies still trailed just 14-10 at the break because their major improvement at the lineout, improved defence and willingness for the first contest of the year was high.

Halfback Nic White had an eye-catching start to his first Test in four years.

His pass was snapped accurately AND one 60m box kick from the ruckbase was superb.

The Wallabies cursed a blooper that cost a try after 33 minutes.

Bernard Foley looped outside Haylett-Petty on the touchline and the flyhalf's kick ahead was perfect for the chasing winger. Haylett-Petty elected to pick up the ball on his ankles 2m out from the tryline but fumbled it. There was a strong case for diving at the ball so close to the line and sliding over but it was too late.

Centre Kerevi needs to start passing school again because the manner of messing up a try after 17 minutes was poor.

He'd made a brilliant break off a Foley pass and swerved wisely when in the clear to wait for support.

By going into contact as he so often does, he felt a one-handed pass would do it but it was clearly forward to negate the galloping 40m run to the tryline by Lukhan Salakaia-Loto.

Decades of Wallaby centres would have yelled at their TV screens at Kerevi not being able to simply draw the last-man and make a two-handed pass from the textbook. Another five-pointer missed.

The Wallabies had their chance against 14 men midway through the first half when burly Boks centre Andre Esterhuizen was yellow-carded for a clumsy tackle around the neck of fullback Tom Banks.

Lukhan Salakaia of Australia on the way to score a disallowed try. Picture: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Lukhan Salakaia of Australia on the way to score a disallowed try. Picture: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images

 

Skipper Michael Hooper created the chance when he waved away a shot at penalty goal at 14-3 down to back a kick to touch for a lineout attack from 7m out.

It was a winner. There was no driving maul progress but Kerevi's input was key. Rather than go to ground, he popped out a quick ball as he fell and the relay was made to Haylett-Petty's right wing.

He still had plenty to do when the cover defence got to him but he rolled expertly and reached out for the five-pointer.

Debutant No. 8 Isi Naisarani impressed in the first half. He made two or three strong leg-driving ball-carries and as impressively he roped in one high pass easily, under pressure, to run again.

Hooper passed on a gift three-points from a penalty in front of the posts just before half-time as if he was trailing a 5m scrum as a World Cup rehearsal play.

A centrefield scrum is always a good try chance but this one fizzled. Naisarani fumbled the ball at the back of the scrum and White was penalised when swamped by South Africans wrenching at the ball for a steal.

For all that, the Test was in the balance until the 53rd minute when replacement prop Taniela Tupou was yellow carded for a big clean-out on flanker Rynhardt Elstadt on the edge of a ruck. Tupou's body height was fine and he had arms up to wrap his target but referee Paul Williams said the hit was clearly dangerous, came after the whistle and to the chest. Rynhardt Elstadt was in dodgy territory himself when he learnt his shoulder to the ruck moments before.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika thought the referee got it wrong too.

Cheika was irked that Tupou was yellow carded and the 14-0 Boks' surge when he was off was decisive.

"I make it as the wrong call. The other guy (South Africa Rynhardt Elstadt) should have been sent to the sin bin," Cheika said.

"The fourth official said he focused on the green (Boks) player who came in with a shoulder charge. Taniela then came in after that to get him, with his arms wrapped at the right height.

"I'm not sure if big contact is a penalty these days but that's a wrong decision."

The Springboks went on a 14-0 sprint against 14 men. A quick hands try to winger Sbu Nkosi was followed by a shortside scoot down the vacant blindside by standout two-try halfback Herschel Jantjes. Replacement Matt Toomua could only look up in exasperation on the edge of the ruck as Jantjes dashed away.

Fly half Bernard Foley was the Wallabies single playmaker until Kurtley Beale entered the game late and he transformed the potency.

Beale hit a flat pass from Will Genia to find a break and his one-handed pass to Foley produced a consolation try.

Beale was sharp and decisive but it was already Test over.

New fullback Tom Banks and winger reece Hodge were indecisive under an early kick. Banks was willing but bottled up. Kerevi had strong-running involvements from inside centre, Hooper was good and the seven-from-seven lineout ledger of the first half was just what the team wanted.

 

 

The sin binning of Taniela Tupou was a crucial moment in the game. Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images
The sin binning of Taniela Tupou was a crucial moment in the game. Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images

 

Hooker Folau Faingaa made a few general play errors and one pass intercepted off Foley was forced by pressure.

Groggy prop James Slipper had to be replaced after 48 minutes when copping a knee making a front-on tackle.

It created a dream debut for "Schnitty Man" Harry Johnson-Holmes, the prop whisked from dining at Sydney's Lord Dudley hotel on Tuesday to Johannesburg to cover the prop crisis.

He had some difficult moments at scrum time as expected but was willing in general play and no one belted out a louder national anthem.

"I think he handled it quite well, considering he'd come in with only two days prep. He certainly did himself proud in being out there," Cheika said.

The Wallabies had their moments but being more clinical against Argentina in Brisbane on Saturday can be the only formula for better.

 

SCORECARD

SOUTH AFRICA 35 (H Jantjes 2, C Reinach, L de Jager, S Nkosi tries; E Jantjes 5 con) bt AUSTRALIA 17 (D Haylett-Petty, B Foley tries; B Foley 2 conv, pen goal)

News Corp Australia


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