The Wallabies may have arrived in Adelaide late to the party, but they left a mark to remember for the watching world.
Embarrassed after their last attempt in Argentina and forced to lick their wounds for a fortnight, the Wallabies responded in the best possible way by beating the Springboks world champion 25-17 at Adelaide Oval on Saturday afternoon.
By doing this they significantly eased the pressure from coach Dave Rennie, whose winning percentage was a disappointing 40 leading in his 26th Test.
The win saw the Wallabies move to the top of the Rugby Championship standings, after returning from Argentina with a bonus point win and loss of their two-match tour.
Marika Koroibete was the star of the show, with the former NRL star making a mark on the hallowed Adelaide grass either side of the halftime.
His try-saver late in the first half on Makazola Mapimpi was the decisive moment of the match.
The World Cup-winning winger seemed destined for the try-line before Koroibete – the 2019 John Eales medalist – knocked him over the sidelines, sending the 36,366 fans ascending as one.
Six minutes into the second half, Koroibete showed his opponents how to finish, charging into a Noah Lolesio ball and showing the required footwork to score.
Ten minutes later the game was all but over when Fraser McReight had his second as he dove over the line to round out a superb play by Lolesio and acting captain James Slipper.
Filling the void left by usual skipper Michael Hooper in Argentina, McReight was central to the win.
The 23-year-old gave the Wallabies the perfect start by crossing after just 62 seconds.
But it was his excellent work on the ball midway through the first half, which was just as telling as the open wing flanker got the ball and stole it on the fault after the Springboks made a break and were stopped yards from the try line of the Wallabies.
Slipper paid tribute to Koroibete, saying the ex-NRL star had risen and won the moments that matter in Test rugby.
“Test game rugby, it’s built on big moments. And normally the team that wins goes well in those big moments and we had quite a few in the back of the first half,” Slipper said.
“And this group, I’ve said it many times, it has a lot of character. It’s just about consistently performing and that’s probably our biggest challenge right now. Is to support that effort in Sydney next week.”
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The Springboks were miles away from their intimidating best.
Handre Pollard missed two relatively easy shots on target in the first half and struggled to fuel their attack.
Nor did they take full advantage of their dominance on set, where the Springboks crushed the home side at the scrum and stole crucial balls from the lineout.
But thanks to the Wallabies’ ability to win the clash and go up front on defense, they won a crucial game en route to next year’s World Cup game.
Continuing with the win and putting in another strong performance in Sydney next week is crucial, not least because the TRC is up for grabs, but because the Bledisloe Cup is just around the corner and the World Cup is just 13 tests away.
Springboks skipper SIya Kolisi lamented his inability to convert the pressure into points in the first half.
“They played very well today,” said Kolisi. “You know, from the start.
“The game is about small margins. They took every chance they got and they supported themselves and today it didn’t go our way in that area.”
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