Gold Coast – A gutsy South Africa upset old rivals New Zealand on Saturday to bounce back from “a tough few weeks” in the Rugby Championship while Australia burnished their credentials with a fourth consecutive win.
The world champions headed into the sixth and final round of the southern hemisphere tournament on the back of three defeats and had to dig deep to snap the streak – and end New Zealand’s 10-match win run.
In a nail-biter on Australia’s Gold Coast, the match went to the wire with Elton Jantjies slotting a penalty after the final hooter to earn a tense 31-29 win.
In the early game at Cbus Super Stadium, the Wallabies ground down a ragged Argentina 32-17 with Andrew Kellaway bagging a hat-trick, building on beating Los Pumas last week which followed two wins against South Africa.
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It ensured Dave Rennie’s men finished the Rugby Championship in second place on 18 points, seven behind the All Blacks and three clear of the Springboks.
Argentina, who played Saturday without the experienced Pablo Matera and Santiago Medrano after they were banned for breaching Covid rules, lost all six matches to prop up the table.
South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber said: “It’s been a tough few weeks for us, we lost momentum in not securing victory in the last three games.
“But in fairness, that’s the margins when the one, two, three in the world play against each other.
“This weekend we got the opportunity at the end of the game to win it, last week New Zealand had that opportunity.
“That’s why it’s good for us to play these games, for our guys it’s good exposure,” he added.
The All Blacks went to the break with a 20-14 lead after tries from Sevu Reece, Ardie Savea and Brad Weber. But Nienaber’s pep-talk at half-time fired up his team.
Makazole Mapimpi barged over for a try soon after the restart to add to Damian de Allende’s first-half effort before a thrilling final five minutes that saw the lead change four times.
The All Blacks had already sealed the Rugby Championship with their 19-17 victory over South Africa last week, but coach Ian Foster was nevertheless “bitterly disappointed”.
“Losing a game at the end when you’ve got control of it was frustrating, but it was a massive arm-wrestle,” he said. “I thought South Africa played superb, they came with a lot of attitude, they moved us around and really challenged us.”
A resurgent Australia came into their clash against Argentina bubbling with confidence and dictated a game in which Kellaway crossed three times and 38-year-old prop Greg Holmes became the oldest Wallaby since World War II.
It was the first time they have won four in a row since 2017 and the first time ever at the Rugby Championship, boding well for their upcoming European tour.
“I’m really stoked,” said skipper Michael Hooper, whose team head to Japan to play the Cherry Blossoms on October 23 en route to face England, Scotland and Wales.
“We had a tough three games on the trot against the Kiwis (All Blacks) so to turn things around, be able to play in our backyard here and get four wins, it’s showing some really nice stuff for us.”
The opening 20 minutes was a battle but when Pumas lock Tomas Lavanini was sin-binned for obstruction, Australia pounced.
Folau Fainga’a powered over off a rolling maul then Rob Valetini split the defence and offloaded to Kellaway for another try, which steered Australia to a 15-3 half-time lead.
Samu Kerevi added a third try two minutes after the restart and Kellaway bagged his second and third with Quade Cooper and Len Ikitau in the thick of the action.
But the Pumas refused to give up and Thomas Gallo grabbed two late consolation tries.
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