They had a chance to win it right at the death, but it wasn’t to be as the Springboks let an eight-point lead slip to go down 23-18 to the Wallabies in Brisbane on Saturday.
After a sprightly opening half-hour at the Suncorp Stadium, the Boks were gradually dragged into a dogfight by a limited Australian outfit decimated by a number of late withdrawals.
The second half was one to forget for Rassie Erasmus’ team as they lost all sense of direction, with a number of handling errors in the slippery conditions.
They also ran out of ideas on attack when camping on the Wallaby line in the last five minutes. Despite having several scrums, the Boks did the same play over and over again – Faf de Klerk passing mainly to Damian de Allende, or at times Jesse Kriel, to bash it up.
It made it easier for the Aussie defenders to scramble, and they fanned out cleverly while the South Africans tried to pick and go around the fringes.
They were going nowhere, and the opportunity to win or draw the game was lost when De Klerk lost possession.
It looked like things were going to be different for Siya Kolisi and his side after they went into a 15-7 lead after 28 minutes.
Australia made a flying start, though, with captain Michael Hooper crawling over after a Lukhan Tui surge down the left, with the Bok defence nowhere to be found.
The visitors clawed their way back into the game, as the forwards got stuck in and won the collisions. Elton Jantjies slotted an early penalty, and in the 14th minute, a well-set lineout maul saw Bongi Mbonambi falling over.
The Boks got into a steady rhythm as they carried the ball strongly and played with width on attack – which was in stark contrast to the listless display in the 32-19 loss to Argentina in Mendoza.
They were rewarded for their endeavour when, following a couple of barn-storming runs by Steven Kitshoff, De Klerk cleverly spun the ball wide for Makazole Mapimpi to finish in the corner.
The Boks should’ve kicked on from there, but their performance deteriorated as the match wore on.
Mbonambi made a bad mistake when his long throw to the back on a defensive five-metre lineout was too far to reach for Kolisi, and Matt Toomua pounced to score under the posts.
Erasmus hauled off Mbonambi moments later for Malcolm Marx, which was a bit harsh, as Marx also battled with his throws.
They lost the industrious Mapimpi at the same time to injury, which saw Cheslin Kolbe come on at wing for his Test debut.
In the second half, though, the Boks rushed a few things unnecessarily, and didn’t make enough use of the boot in the slippery conditions.
Jantjies – who had a solid overall game – looked to take a few penalties to touch quickly, and one skewed off the boot to the Bok 22m line.
Some of referee Glen Jackson’s scrum penalty calls against the Boks were also questionable, while he regularly failed to spot skew Aussie lineout throw-ins.
But that is not why the Boks lost. The Wallabies weren’t capable of applying pressure on attack, especially with Israel Folau pulling out on the day of the game.
The South Africans weren’t able to put the opposition away, and it looked like both teams didn’t want to win the match.
A draw may have been a better reflection, but now Erasmus has to find a way to lift his troops for the big one next week against the All Blacks in Wellington.
Wallabies 23 – Tries: Michael Hooper, Matt Toomua. Conversions: Toomua (2). Penalties: Reece Hodge (1), Toomua (2).
Springboks 18 – Tries: Bongi Mbonambi, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversion: Elton Jantjies (1). Penalties: Jantjies (2).