Fullback Kurtley Beale struck a dramatic long-range penalty with his only kick of the match to give Australia a 41-39 win over South Africa in a magnificent Tri-Nations clash on Saturday.
Beale’s nerveless goal in the final 30 seconds from 55m climaxed a game which see-sawed dramatically after the Wallabies had run the Springboks ragged in the first quarter.
It also atoned for two previous mistakes by Beale who had thrown a wild pass that went out touch-in-goal to give South Africa a 5m scrum, from which center Jean de Villiers scored.
Beale then slipped when he tried to field a kick. The ball rebounded off his head to Springbok outside center Jaque Fourie, who sparked an attack that led to flyhalf Morne Steyn’s 77th-minute penalty that gave the hosts a 39-38 lead.
“There were a lot of nerves, but the boys wanted me to take the kick, so I just stuck to the process and told myself not to worry. I knew I had hit it well,” Beale told a press conference.
The match began at a frenetic pace, with Australia scoring four tries in the first 26 minutes to lead 31-6 through some exhilarating broken field running.
Beale, wing James O’Connor, hooker Stephen Moore and flanker and captain Rocky Elsom scored tries, all of which were converted by Matt Giteau.
The Springboks struck back with a converted try by Fourie on the stroke of halftime to cut the deficit to 31-13.
They then dominated most of the second half through converted tries to prop Gurthro Steenkamp and De Villiers, plus three penalties by Steyn to take the lead in an astonishing comeback.
Wallaby wing Drew Mitchell then flew through the defense for an impressive try, with O’Connor’s conversion returning the lead to the Australians.
It was not to last as Steyn succeeded with another penalty with three minutes remaining, which looked like proving the match winner, but flanker David Pocock forced a ruck penalty and, after some deliberation, Beale was given the ball for the kick which was to break Springbok hearts at the end of a miserable Tri-Nations season following their 2007 World Cup triumph and last year’s series win over the Lions.
They end bottom of the standings with only one win in their six matches to finish behind Australia and champions New Zealand, who meet next Saturday.
Australia coach Robbie Deans, whose team let slip a winning position last week, said he had had every confidence in Beale’s ability to convert an ultimate pressure kick.
“He’s that sort of player who has a point of difference about him, I knew the prospects were good. He stepped up really well because it’s pretty humiliating for the ball to hit you in the forehead in a place like Bloemfontein in front of that crowd,” Deans said.
Springbok captain John Smit said the stirring fightback had done little to soothe the pain of defeat.
“We don’t want to be showing character every week, we can’t afford to keep playing catch-up rugby. There are no excuses, we were off our best. It’s unacceptable that we work so hard on our defense all week and then let ourselves down like we did today,” Smit said.
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