Boks and Wallabies in another tame draw
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP REPORT: South Africa and Australia played to another tame draw, 27-all, in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Drawing is not satisfying. Of course, it's not satisfying. Doing it twice is in fact unpleasant. Accepted that drawing is better than losing, it is still unsatisfying and annoying.
Even though the match is lively and unpredictable as it was in Bloemfontein, the result remains unsatisfying. It evokes no emotion, no excitement, no anger, not even relief.
The Springboks could have won and the Wallabies could have won. Neither did. Both had chances, unused chances. Australia had a great chance to win when Tevita Kuridrani looked set to score but a brave action by Ross Cronje stopped the bigger man at the try-line.
South Africa had a chance to win just before the end but Elton Jantjies was well wide with a penalty kick. It is not great when one player out of 46 has the responsibility of winning the game - an angled kick on his wrong side. However bravely and skilfully Jantjies played the missed kick may well be the most lasting memory of his performance. It doesn't seem fair.
Things could always be worse. Albany was miles worse and perhaps the South African disappointment at this result may be the feeling of redemption denied.
And yet in Bloemfontein there was a rugby match on a great field with a crowd of some 33 000 in perfect weather with players who ran and ran from minute 1 to minute 80 with great verve and energy, if lacking the heights of skilful perfection expected of players of this level. It was certainly a match well worth attending.
Bloemfontein has now hosted five Test matches between the Springboks and the Wallabies with honours still even. Each side has won twice and now there is a draw.
The anthems were sung - South Africa's by the Caroline-Grace Brüssow, the wife of the Springbok flank Heinrich Brüssow. The South African flag was held by Tannie Ans Botha, the coach of Olympic gold medalist Wayde van Niekerk.
Bernard Foley kicked off to start the match. Dyllin Leyds caught the ball, and the Springboks began running - right, left, right, left, left, right, and Andries Coetzee broke but it all ended with a scrum for an unplayable tackle some 28 metres from the Australian line. The Australians were awarded a free kick at the scrum and cleared.
The scrums, such a mess for the Springboks in Albany, were a mess in Bloemfontein as well. Eight scrums produced five resets, three penalties and a free kick.
As in Albany the Springboks dominated early possession but their opponents scored first.
The Springboks knocked on in a line-out and from the ensuing scrum on the Springbok 22 on the Wallaby right, Will Genia went left and gave to Foley who quickly passed back inside to Israel Folau who raced past Jan Serfontein and scored easily at the posts. 7-0 after 10 minutes.
The Springboks kept on running, but the Wallaby defence was quick and secure, and they did not let the Springboks advance. The result was that the Springboks had 90% of possession early on but only 30% of territory.
The Springboks had two kickable penalties, which they used on attacking line-outs. They mauled the second, which the Wallabies defended well till Malcolm Marx broke away and then Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth and Francois Louw bashed ahead till the ball went to prop Ruan Dreyer. He bumped off Folau's attempted tackle and scored under the posts. 7-7 after 17 minutes.
Uzair Cassiem went off with sore ribs, replaced by Jean-Luc du Preez.
The other three scores in the first half were all penalty goals - first by Foley when Etzebeth tackled high, the second by Jantjies when Jack Dempsey was penalised for a deliberate knock-on and the third by Foley when the Springboks were penalised in a scrum.
That made the half-time score 13-10, as it was in Perth earlier in the competition.
There was an ugly incident late in the half when Folau grabbed a handful of Leyds's hair from behind and jerked his head back, provoking an angry response from Etzebeth and an emotional outbreak amongst the players. It may well attract the interest of the citing commissioner.
The Springboks wasted no time in attacking in the second half. There was a drop-out by the Wallabies and the Springboks again went wide left and then wide right where Siya Kolisi was playing extra wing. He had an overlap, charged down the field, bumped off Kurtley Beale and passed to Leyds on his outside. Leyds, being tackled by Genia, passed a bouncing ball inside where Serfontein picked it up and scored. 17-13 to the Springboks after 43 minutes.
The Wallabies were going through innocent phases when suddenly Foley handed off Kolisi and passed to big, fast Marika Koroibete on his right and the wing scored. 20-17 after 46 minutes.
It was breathless.
The Springboks continued to play at a heightened tempo and Courtnall Skosan took a short pass off Serfontein in midfield and sprinted over the line as Foley and Beale tried to stop him. 24-20 after 50 minutes.
After an air tackle - Australia's third in the match - Cronje tapped and the Springboks attacked. Then the Wallabies kicked a kickable penalty out into touch. They bashed at the line and, playing on under advantage for a penalty under the posts, they went wide to the left where Koroibete scored despite Cronje's desperate effort to tackle him. Foley converted from touch. Australia led 27-24 after 57 minutes.
The game became more circumspect after this though not without excitement. There was only one more score, a penalty by Jantjies.
Jesse Kriel had a promising break and at the other end Cronje's tackle into the knees of Kuridrani prevented a try. Leyds had a good run down the right but the passing inside went awry.
Then with 12 minutes to play Reece Hodges was penalised at a tackle and Jantjies goaled to make the score 27-27.
Du Preez, Skosan and Damien de Allende attacked and then came the most promising moment of the endgame when Beale counterattacked and burst down the middle of the field till Jantjies felled him.
The final whistle ended the match - a draw.
The draw meant that Australia, winners in 2016, retained the Nelson Mandela Plate.
Man of the Match: In this draw, let's choose one from each side - Elton Jantjies of the Springboks and Bernard Foley of the Wallabies.
Moment of the Match: Let's choose two - Israel's Folau's try for its slick efficiency and Ross Cronje's tackle on Tevita Kuridrani for his effective bravery.
Villain of the Match: Israel' Folau for his assault on Dyllin Leyds's hair in the hope that it was an accident, though it did not look so.
For South Africa:
Tries: Dreyer, Serfontein, Skosan
Cons: Jantjies 3
Pens: Jantjies 2
Tries: Folau, Koroibete 2
Cons: Foley 3
Pens: Foley 2
South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 5 Francois Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Damian de Allende.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Reece Hodges, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Lukhan Tui, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Samu Kerevi.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)