Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer gave credit to the Wallabies for a strong finish as the South Africans started the Rugby Championship with a heart-breaking 24-20 defeat in Brisbane on Saturday. For the second successive year, the Wallabies snuck through with a try at the death. Tevita Kuridrani (centre) scored the match-winning try for the home team, awarded after a long deliberation between the referee and the TMO, adding to five-pointers by Adam Ashley-Cooper (wing) and Michael Hooper (flank).
Bok lock Eben Etzebeth and outside centre Jesse Kriel, on debut, both scored their first Test tries for South Africa, while Handre Pollard (flyhalf) slotted four kicks from five at goal, two conversions and two penalty goals. With 10 minutes to go, the Springboks were ahead by 20-10 before Hooper scored. Kuridrani crashed over for a converted try in injury time.
The visitors were dealt an early blow when Springbok captain Victor Matfield (lock) was forced to leave the field with a hamstring strain in the 18th minute. Workhorse flanker Marcell Coetzee took a knock to the knee in the 70th minute. Meyer says: ‘It’s heart-breaking to lose like that for a second year running in Australia, but we simply can’t dwell on it and have to take some harsh but valuable lessons to heart.’ The Bok boss refused the question the decisions to award a penalty and the subsequent try against the Boks at the death, while they were in control of the ball.
He says: ‘Losing our captain early was tough and we finished the match with eight players who were playing in their 10th Test or fewer than that. It’s not an excuse – we will all be better for it and we will have to look at ways to overcome this. Although we played some brilliant rugby at times, our execution also let us down and I think we left two tries out there, right at the end of the first half and midway through the second. We probably lacked some experience at the end when we needed to close the match, but we’ve said from the word go this season that we wanted to use our five matches in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup to get ready. We’ll never accept defeat but I believe that we will take a lot from this match against a very experienced Wallaby team. Next week we have the All Blacks waiting in Johannesburg and we have to rise to the challenge.’
Apart from the injuries to Matfield and Coetzee, Jannie Du Plessis (prop) had to undergo a head injury assessment in the 14th minute and was subsequently taken off the field in the 48th minute, while Francois Louw (flank) got a nasty cut to his mouth in the 28th minute. All the injured players will be re-assessed by the Springbok medical team in Johannesburg on Monday. Both Matfield and Coetzee will be in a race against time to be fit to face New Zealand next week.
Meyer says: ‘There were lots of hard knocks out there and all these injuries will certainly test our depth, but the guys next in line will have to show what they’ve got and stand up next week. We’re already without experienced players such as Jean De Villiers, Fourie Du Preez, Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts, but we always wanted to use the Tests in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship to see what depth we have and there will probably be more changes next week.’
The Springboks will travel back to South Africa in two groups and will only have a light flush-out session on Monday before hitting the training ground on Tuesday. The team to face New Zealand next weekend will be named on Wednesday.
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