The Wallabies are right in the hunt for October's World Cup after their inspirational defensive effort fell just short against tournament fancies South Africa in the Tri-Nations opener, reports said yesterday.
Replacement winger Francois Steyn won the Cape Town Test match for the Springboks 22-19 with two late drop goals to dash the Wallabies' hopes of halting a five-year, 14-game stretch of offshore losses to South Africa, New Zealand and France.
But the Australians, given little chance of competing with the Springboks in South Africa after a mixed build-up, were praised for their incredible defensive effort for long stretches.
"It was a battle lost from which a war might be won," yesterday's the Australian said. "Even if they take away nothing else from Newlands -- an unconsoling Tri-Nations bonus point aside -- the Wallabies know within themselves that they are right in the hunt for the World Cup in October."
"This was a match that will go into the annals of both countries and while South Africans might look back on it more fondly, the Wallabies can take pride in the fact that no Australian side has given more in defeat," the Australian said.
The Sydney Morning Herald said it would be unfair to label the Wallabies as losers after their titanic backs-to-the-wall effort.
"Better Australian line-ups than the one which ran out onto Newlands have lost by bigger margins to the Springboks -- but none has been as courageous or as unlucky as this team," the Herald said.
"Considering their incredible defensive effort for long stretches of the game -- in particular during the opening and closing quarters -- while the Springboks played brilliant possession football, they deserved a better fate," it said.
"It is unfair to describe them as losers. They had to rely on measly scraps and were given few chances to do anything productive out wide but somehow were able to enjoy a 19-10 lead early in the second half," the Herald said.
The Wallabies survived on just 35 percent of possession -- making more than 135 tackles to the South Africans' 50 -- and were camped inside their own half for more than 70 percent of the Test.
South African coach Jake White believes Australia are on track to win an unprecedented third World Cup in France after his side were forced to come from behind for victory.
"I thought they defended outstandingly well today. Australia will always be a force in any sporting code," White told the Australian. "Sport dominates their culture and they're the only nation in the world that has won two World Cups so they are not going to be going to the World Cup underprepared."
"The reality is they have a huge amount of experience in certain positions ... their first-phase [lineout] ball with Dan Vickerman and Nathan Sharpe is one of the best in the world, their loose-forward combination where they've got [Phil] Waugh and [George] Smith who can come on and their backs speak for themselves," White said.
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