Shamed and dismantled in their record defeat to Argentina in San Juan, the Wallabies had had a fortnight to stew in their own juices. There had been, said Coach Dave Rennie, “a pretty brutal review, a fair bit of honesty, and an excellent response.”
That “reaction” ran towards Adelaide Oval and delivered a 25-17 hammer blow from the reigning world champions South Africa. While the score suggests a tight test, Australia reigned supreme all day – fantastic on offense and brave on defense, rewarding the faithful and Rugby Championship campaign back on track.
All year long, the Wallabies had missed the start and were lagging far behind and then chased the scoreboard with increasing desperation. Rennie had swung the ax and stabbed this wound, making six changes and seven position switches. It worked from the start. In Adelaide, against a monster suit with All Blacks scalps pinned to their shorts, Australia exploded out the gates.
In the Wallaby way, rugby is played at high speed. It’s a high-risk, high-reward hairstyle that pleases fans when it works, and makes their hair shiver when it doesn’t. In Adelaide, the precision of their game matched its pace for once. The proof came in the second minute when a quick ball from Nic White crashed Fraser McReight.
McReight, a Sunshine Coast surfer, has modeled his game after the absent Captain Michael Hooper. The 23-year-old made his debut when his leader rose to resignation last month with mental health issues in Argentina. Now, after three tests with Hooper’s No. 7 jersey, McReight is a star. Resembling a ferocious, hackneyed Santa in his red-and-white headgear, the flanker’s insanely brave attacks, aggressive defense and perceptive theft at the ruck set the tone. And his youthful energy, not to mention his two chest-thumping attempts in the Test, would ultimately prove the difference.
The other talisman controlling the Wallabies was, as always, No. 11 Marika Koroibete. Twice in the first ten minutes, his chase sent fear into South African hearts as he followed high kicks to contain the catcher tomorrow. The seeds of destruction and doubt were then sown in the three Springbok. They never recovered.
Koroibete, man of the series in the Ella-Mobbs Cup, came up with the game of the day. After Australia had undone their early good work with the well-known ill-discipline, Australia had gifted the Springboks with an abundance of possession and when South African aviator Makazole Mapimpi found a mile of space in the shadow of half-time, it spelled disaster and a 10-10 deficit.
As he sailed to the corner, there was a haze in the west and Mapimpi averted his eyes to catch a glimpse of it. By then it was too late. Like a solid gold bullet train, Koroboite shot in from the right wing with terrifying speed and charged at his opponent, sending him up, over and out. Catastrophe averted.
Australia had endured incredible pressure throughout the half and they won a crucial late penalty as De Klerk tried to knock the mustache off Nic White’s face. It was a bull’s-eye that would make Tommy Raudonikis mock, but it put De Klerk in the box for 10 and allowed Australia to keep the world champions out of the game and go into the break 10-3.
In the second half, under a warm and sunny sky, the game remained hectic. Australia was not perfect. They continued to lose lineouts and the Springboks shooters, on the back of a huge platoon that began to purr, began targeting Wallabies winger Tom Wright under high ball boots directly in the sun. Smelling blood, the Springboks charged the line and only quick action from Arnold at full force saved an attempt.
But after Australia bravely fended off the incursions, Australia now responded. Eight minutes into the half, Nic White fired a bullet from 20 yards at Wright to shoot down the right flank from the right. That raid failed but when they turned left through Hunter Paisami it came back to life. And when the leather landed at Koroibete, it was all over. The big winger supported, shook and exploded over a defense on his heels to make it 15-3.
Now the Springboks started to wobble and the ball started bouncing Australia’s way. By the o’clock white went halfway to the left. But with the broken wisdom of an old man, Captain James Slipper shot it straight back to the right where fly-half Noah Lolesio ran at high speed through a gaping opening. Ten yards away, with the boasting of a young man, the 22-year-old sent in a daring pass, to who else? — Fraser McReight, loyally looming for support, who got fingertips at it and tripped over it.
Australia was home at 20-3. Unfortunately, they celebrated early and leaked a few consolation attempts to flatter the visitor’s deficit and – more importantly – deny themselves a much-needed bonus point in the Championship. But it didn’t matter (much). The Test was won, the world champions were defeated and an unbeaten run of eight games against South Africa in Australia was on the program. The Wallabies were back and a 36,366-strong Adelaide crowd went home satisfied.
“We are very proud of the commitment we have shown today,” said Captain James Slipper afterwards. “It was a tough tour in Argentina, but to get here in front of an Adelaide crowd we are very proud of the effort put in.
Slipper said a good start was the key to the win. “We talked about (a strong start) all year, it was just a matter of doing and delivering. We started the game well and it put us in a good position. There are parts of that game that we had to show a lot of character and we persevered. When we had those opportunities, we scored.”
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