World Cup - Australia beat South Africa in thriller
In a tight match in Wellington, Australia withstood a huge Springbok onslaught to snatch the win against the run of play and set up a last-four clash against the All Blacks, who overcame Argentina 33-10 in the last quarter-final.
South Africa made a blistering start to the match, keeping Australia pinned back in their own half for the first 10 minutes.
But Australia’s defence held firm, refusing to panic, and eventually forced their way deep into South African territory thanks to a pin-point clearance kick from the under-par Quade Cooper.
Sensing their opportunity, the Wallabies successfully applied the pressure and Radike Samo did brilliantly to pick up the loose ball when South Africa spilled just five metres from their own line. Samo found Pat McCabe, returning from a partially dislocated shoulder, who in turn offloaded to his skipper James Horwill for the drive over the line.
James O’Connor missed the conversion but the damage was done for South Africa who looked rattled from the restart as a series of errors saw them on the back foot.
Kurtley Beale almost added a second try when he skipped through the tackle of Boks captain John Smit before breaking. With support on both sides, Beale found Stephen Moore only to see Schalk Burger haul the hooker down five metres short of the line.
Australia did add another three points to their tally in the 17th minute when Jannie Du Plessis was penalised for coming in from the side; O’Connor landing a simple kick from the 22m line right in front of the posts.
South Africa began to regain their composure towards the end of the first half, going close more than once through Bryan Habana, who looked dazed after two huge hits in quick succession from McCabe and Samo.
The Springboks continued to make mistakes at crucial times but it was only a matter of time before they broke through. Disappointingly for the defending champions though, the try they were so desperately looking for failed to come and they instead had to be satisfied with a penalty.
Having already missed a kick from the halfway line Morne Steyn finally got his side off the mark, one minute from the interval, with a comfortable kick from the 22m line when Horwill was penalised for hands in the ruck.
Steyn had the chance to double South Africa’s tally with the final kick of the half but pulled his tricky kick from the sideline and halfway line well wide of the left posts.
The second half continued in much the same vein as South Africa looked by far the more likely to score as they kept Australia pinned back in last-ditch defence.
Jean De Villiers created a moment of brilliance as he skipped through the tackle of Adam Ashley-Cooper before offloading to Patrick Lambie for a certain try, only to see him called back for a forward pass, while Habana suffered the same fate when he broke down the left wing just minutes later.
South Africa did get more points on the board in the 56th minute when Steyn landed another easy penalty when Australia were penalised in the scrum, an area in which they struggled all night.
Steyn kicked his side into the lead with a well-executed drop goal five minutes later before they had the chance to put the game to bed when replacement Francois Hougaard got to within a metre of the line only to spill the ball forward.
South Africa continued to put Australia under some extreme pressure but they could not quite get the final ball as Lambie pulled a drop goal attempt just to the right of the posts with 10 minutes remaining.
And South Africa were made to pay the ultimate price as, just like in the first half, Australia took their opportunity when they were offered it; O’Connor stepping up to kick a penalty from 35 metres out when Victor Matfield was caught pulling down Samo at the line-out.
From there Australia simply did all they could to hold on, eventually securing the win with a scrum on the halfway line - Will Genia kicking into touch to put an end to the contest.
12’ Horwill try: 0-5 Australia
17’ O’Connor penalty: 0-8 Australia
39’ Steyn penalty: South Africa 3-8
55’ Steyn penalty: South Africa 6-8
60’ Steyn drop goal: South Africa 9-8
71’ O’Connor penalty: 9-11 Australia