Springboks denied shot at redemption

TRI-NATIONS: South Africa were on track for a backs-to-the-wall victory when Australia's Mat Rogers yanked the carpet out from under their feet


Sun, Aug 06, 2006 - Page 24

Australia denied desperately unlucky South Africa a dramatic comeback win with a late converted Mat Rogers try for a 20-18 Tri-Nations rugby victory at the Olympic stadium yesterday.

The Springboks, who were humiliated 49-0 by the Australians in Brisbane three weeks ago, were leading 18-13 and on track for a backs-to-the-wall victory before Rogers' game-stealing try four minutes from full-time.

The winning try was conceived and executed by three players off the reserves bench with scrumhalf Sam Cordingley and flanker Phil Waugh combining to send flyhalf Rogers sprinting past Springbok fullback Percy Montgomery to the left corner.

Stirling Mortlock's sideline conversion hit the near upright and bounced over the crossbar, clinching victory to the joy of the 60,522 home crowd.

The Wallabies' last-gasp win keeps them in the hunt for the Tri-Nations title, three points behind New Zealand, but having played an extra game. Australia face the All Blacks again in Auckland in a fortnight.

"It wasn't a pretty win but it was a good win," skipper George Gregan said.

Springbok captain John Smit said his team did everything but win.

"It's heartbreaking, we worked so hard for 80 minutes," he said.

"We knew from the start we could win this game, we did enough to win it, but we just didn't come through when it really mattered so we'll take a lot more out of this game than the last one and we are looking forward to playing in our home Tests," Smit said.

From the kick-off Australia faced a far more committed South African team than the one they thrashed three weeks earlier and they slogged out a dour first half.

Mortlock put the Wallabies ahead with an 11th-minute penalty after South Africa's forwards were penalized for diving into a ruck.

"It's not a swimming pool," French referee Joel Jutge was heard to say to the Springboks as he awarded the penalty.

Montgomery missed two relatively easy penalty attempts before the Wallabies were gifted try eight minutes before halftime.

Flyhalf Butch James sliced his intended kick crossfield and Wallaby winger Mark Gerrard then surged through between Bryan Habana and Montgomery, setting sail for the try-line from halfway.

His against the run of play try, converted by Mortlock, pushed the Australians out to a 10-0 halftime lead.

Some of the Springbok tackling was ferocious, but legal, with James smashing Mortlock in a chest-high hit inside South Africa's quarter and open-side flanker Juan Smith picking up playmaker Stephen Larkham in a driving tackle.

Two errors from Larkham in the opening minutes put South Africa in a strong attacking position and George Smith was penalized for hands in the ruck to give James his team's first points.

Center Wynand Olivier sliced through and sent winger Akona Ndungane deep inside Australia's half before he was cover-tackled by Gregan to save a try.

Larkham was penalized for coming into a ruck from the side and James had South Africa trailing 10-6.

Gregan dropped a pass off a scrum win on halfway and it was toed through for centre Jaque Fourie to win the chase and score. James converted for South Africa and the team hit the front for the first time at 13-10 after 55 minutes.

The Wallabies hit back and Gerrard just missed scoring his second try when he could not gather a kick ahead but South Africa's backs were penalized for offside at a ruck and Mortlock levelled the scores at 13-13 minutes later.

But the Springboks hit the front again when Montgomery was pushed over the tryline by winger Bryan Habana for a try.

South Africa led 18-13 with 11 minutes left as Larkham was taken off and replaced by Rogers.

Then came Australia's winning try with Cordingley scooping the ball off the ground to Waugh, who broke free and sent Rogers racing to the try-line.