Australia coach Michael Cheika. Photo: Dave Hunt/EPA

JOHANNESBURG – Australia coach Michael Cheika took positives from his side's 35-17 Rugby Championship loss to South Africa at Ellis Park on Saturday, but was left to rue a yellow card for prop Taniela Tupou that he believes was a game-changer.

Cheika wants his side to play more with the ball in hand going into the Rugby World Cup in Japan, and at times they cut the Springbok defence apart with some incisive attack, but did not have the quality in the finish to punish the home side.

They were not helped by a 54th minute sin-bin for Tupou when they trailed 14-10, which allowed the Boks to score 14 points in the next 10 minutes.

"It was the wrong call," Cheika said. "The other guy (Bok player) should have been sent to the sin-bin. The fourth official (should have) focused on the green player who came in with a shoulder charge.

"Tupou came in after that with his arms wrapped and at the right height, so I’m not sure if it just a case that big contact is a penalty these days."

The Boks had built some momentum before that, so it would be a stretch to say it was the decisive moment of the match, but it certainly put the visitors further onto the back foot.

Cheika believes his side will improve their efficiency in attack in the coming months and says there is a lot to build on from their Ellis Park display.

"I was happy with a lot of the things we had been working on," he said. "I know it was five tries (conceded), but our defence was good.

"But in that second half when we didn’t have a lot of the ball, we were just a bit loose with it when we did have it and that gave the momentum back to the other team."

South Africa used a rush defence to apply pressure on the Australia ball-carrier, but the Wallabies still managed to create a number of try-scoring opportunities.

"We knew they would come with that hard defence, but we still made a significant number of line-breaks. When teams rush on you like that, you are going to get slammed sometimes, it’s the nature of the beast, but sometimes you can pick it apart and we did that," said Cheika.

"I know there is a commitment to playing that way, both in attack and in defence, and it will build as the season goes on."

Australia now return home to Brisbane where they will host Argentina on July 27.

Reuters