South Africa withstood fierce second-half pressure from struggling Australia to win 23-12 Saturday in a tense, scrappy Rugby Championship fifth-round match in Port Elizabeth.
Victory for the Springboks, who led 20-12 at half-time, moved them within two points of leaders New Zealand, who play Argentina in Buenos later Saturday. But it was a disappointing showing from South Africa after a stunning 36-34 triumph over world champions New Zealand in Wellington this month.
Australia suffered a sixth loss in eight Tests this year, adding to the pressure on coach Michael Cheika amid reports that former star George Gregan may join the staff.
There was plenty of effort from the Wallabies, but they could not translate second-half possession into points, even when Springbok Aphiwe Dyantyi was sin-binned. Both teams scored two tries and it was goal kicking that proved the difference with the Springboks converting all five shots at goal and the Wallabies only one of four.
There was little to choose between the teams during an error-strewn match in which Australia exerted a lot of line-out pressure on South Africa.
“It was a real Test match,” said South Africa captain Siya Kolisi. “We started well, then took the foot off the pedal. We need to be patient when we are in our opponents’ 22.
“We missed a few tries out there, but are happy to win the game and know there is more to work on. It did not look pretty, but credit to the boys.”
The Springboks needed just 23 seconds to take the lead as Dyantyi intercepted a skip pass from Kurtley Beale and scored a try that Handre Pollard converted.
South Africa responded to the support of a near-capacity crowd in the 45,000-seat stadium by doubling their lead to 14 points on 22 minutes.
Pollard evaded two would-be tacklers to send fellow half-back Faf de Klerk over and the fly-half converted. Australia were encouraged by several turn-overs from master ball-stealer David Pocock and silenced the crowd by crossing the tryline twice within three minutes.
A perfectly weighted skip pass from Will Genia allowed Reece Hodge to dot down in the corner, but Toomua could not convert. The second Wallabies try came in the other corner with Marika Koroibete breaking and his pass sent Genia clear to score.
South Africa finished the half stronger and Pollard slotted penalties either side of a missed shot at goal by Reece Hodge to give the home team a 20-12 half-time advantage.
After 32 points in the first half, the second half produced just three, a 46th-minute penalty by Pollard, who finished with a five-from-five goal-kicking record.
The Springboks survived a late numerical disadvantage to maintain an unbeaten record at the Port Elizabeth stadium with five victories and a draw.
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)