Resurgent Wallabies hammer world champion Springboks in Adelaide Test
Embarrassed and dismantled in their record defeat by 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 reaction.”
That “reaction” ran onto Adelaide Oval and delivered a 25-17 hammering of the reigning world champions South Africa. Although the scoreline hints at a tight Test, Australia were ascendent all day – fantastic in attack and brave in defence as they rewarded the faithful and got their Rugby Championship campaign back on track.
All year the Wallabies had missed the start and found themselves badly in arrears and chasing the scoreboard with ever-increasing levels of desperation thereafter. Rennie had swung the axe and staunched this wound, making six changes and seven positional switches. It worked from the get-go. In Adelaide, against a monster pack with an All Blacks scalp pinned to their shorts, Australia exploded out of the gates.
The Wallaby way is running rugby played at high speed. It’s a high-risk, high-reward style that pleases fans when it works, and leaves them hair-tearing when it doesn’t. In Adelaide, for once, the precision of their play matched the pace of it. The proof came in the second minute as fast ball from Nic White sent Fraser McReight crashing over.
McReight, a Sunshine Coast surfie, has modelled his game on absent captain Michael Hooper. The 23-year-old made his debut when his leader stood tall to step down with mental health struggles in Argentina last month. Now, after three tests filling Hooper’s No 7 jersey, McReight is a star. Resembling a savage, sawn-off Santa in his red and white headgear, the flanker’s crazy-brave charges, aggressive defence and perceptive thievery at the ruck set the tone. And his youthful energy, not to mention his two chest-thumping tries in the Test, would ultimately prove the difference.
The other talisman steering the Wallabies was, as ever, No 11 Marika Koroibete. Twice in the opening ten minutes his kick-chasing sent fear into South African hearts as he followed high kicks to wallop the catcher into tomorrow. The seeds of destruction and doubt were hereafter sown into the Springboks back three. They never recovered.
Koroibete, man of the series in the Ella-Mobbs Cup, came up with the play of the day. Having undone their early good work with familiar ill-discipline, Australia had gifted the Springboks a glut of possession and when South African flier Makazole Mapimpi found a mile of space in the shadow of halftime, it spelt disaster and a 10-10 scoreline.
As he sailed to the corner, there was a blur 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 speared in from the right wing at terrifying velocity and barrelled into his opposite number, sending him up, over and out. Catastrophe averted.
Australia had withstood incredible pressure all half and they won a crucial late penalty when de Klerk tried to whack the moustache off Nic White’s face. It was a fly swat Tommy Raudonikis would’ve scoffed at but it put de Klerk in the bin for 10 and allowed Australia to keep the world champions tryless and go to the break 10-3 up.
In the second half, under hot and sunny skies, the game stayed frenetic. Australia weren’t perfect. They kept losing line-outs and the Springboks marksmen, on the back of a huge pack that was starting to purr, began targeting Wallabies winger Tom Wright under high ball booted directly into the sun. Smelling blood, the Springboks attacked the line and only fast action from Arnold at full stretch saved a try.
But having courageously repelled the raids, Australia now countered. Eight minutes into the half Nic White shot a bullet pass 20-metres to Wright to surge down the right touchline. That raid fell short but when they went left through Hunter Paisami it came alive again. And when the leather landed with Koroibete it was all over. The big winger propped, jiggered and exploded over a defence on its heels to make it 15-3.
Now the Springboks started to wobble and the ball began to bounce Australia’s way. Nearing the hour mark White went left on halfway. But with an old man’s knackered wisdom, captain James Slipper shot it straight back to the right where fly-half Noah Lolesio ran through a yawning gap at speed. Ten yards out, with a young man’s braggadocio the 22-year-old sent an audacious flick pass inside to – who else? – Fraser McReight, looming loyally in support, who got fingertips to it and stumbled over.
At 20-3, Australia were home. Unfortunately they celebrated early and leaked a couple of consolation tries to flatter the scoreline the visitor’s way and – more crucially – deny themselves a much-needed bonus point in the Championship standings. But it didn’t matter (much). The Test had been won, the world champions were vanquished and an eight-game unbeaten run against South Africa in Australia was on the record. The Wallabies were back and a 36,366-strong Adelaide crowd went home happy.
“We’re very proud of the effort we showed today,” captain James Slipper said afterwards. “It was a tough tour in Argentina but to come here in front of an Adelaide crowd, we’re very proud of the effort put in.
Slipper said starting well was key to the victory. “We’ve talked about (a strong start) all year, it was a matter of just doing it and delivering. We started the game well and it put us in a good position. There’s parts of that game we had to show a lot of a character and we hung on. We scored when we got those opportunities as well.”