Wallabies coach Dave Rennie admits his side missed a golden opportunity to put one hand on the Rugby Championship trophy, brutalized 24-8 by South Africa in Sydney.
Instead of moving a win clear at the top of the table after New Zealand’s 53-3 smashing of Argentina earlier on Saturday, the title is now anyone’s after the Springboks turned in a flawless display highlighted by a dazzling debut try for 19-year-old winger Canan Moodie.
They’ll now head into their two-Test Bledisloe Cup series with all four sides on 2-2 records and the All Blacks topping the charts having netted two bonus point wins.
Coming off a strong win over the world champion Springboks a week ago in Adelaide, the Wallabies were smashed in the collision from the outset and are still yet to win back-to-back games this season.
“I don’t know about one (step) forward, two (steps) back … it’s a tough competition, you’ve got to be at your best every week to be in with a sniff,” coach Dave Rennie told reporters .
“Clearly that’s been a big part of our mantra, we have an understanding we’re playing for something bigger than ourselves and there’s no shortage of motivation and certainly no shortage of belief.
“We’ve got to win those key moments and we’ve got to do the basics a hell of a lot better.”
All four completed two-game series to date have ended 1-1, despite being played in one country rather than home and away, in what has quickly become a topsy-turvy Rugby Championship.
The Springboks scored twice either side of the half but it was Moodie’s first Test try that stole the show, soaring above Marika Koroibete to pluck a towering Jaden Hendrikse box kick and race away to score.
Winger Makazola Mapimpi capped the win on 72 minutes, his try producing one of a number of skirmishes littered throughout the Test.
Mapimpi was sin-binned for sparking a big scuffle when he pushed Koroibete after beating him to score, in what appeared to be a degree of revenge after the Wallaby winger smashed him over the sideline with a monster hit as he attempted to score in the Adelaide Test.
Eben Etzebeth furiously confronted Allan Ala’alatoa as the pushing and shoving spilled towards the crowd after the try. He was arguably lucky to escape without a card of his own.
A frustrated Rennie saw a string of problems with his side’s display.
“The biggest thing was we needed to play with a little bit more optimism, we’re struggling to get our game going, we needed to play with a bit of tempo and kick smarter,” he said.
“Even at 17-3 with 10 minutes left we felt if we got down the other end of the field and get some continuity, maybe we could claw this back.
“It felt like we didn’t fire a shot and they’re very good at strangling us, they go multi-phase and then put it up in the corner and choke you down there.
Injury blows didn’t help Australia, losing center Hunter Paisami and five-eighth Noah Lolesio to head knocks, while impact bench prop Taniela Tupou never entered the fray after a calf injury sustained while warming up.
Having orchestrated South Africa’s first win in Australia in nine years, coach Jacques Nienaber said the performance was a huge step up from the Adelaide defeat.
“Obviously last week we created a couple of opportunities and I thought we didn’t take those,” he told reporters.
“That was better tonight and obviously we weren’t happy with the intensity we started the game with last week, especially those first 20 to 25 minutes … that was a big step up today.”