Springboks scrap to 18-10 win over Wallabies

By GERALD IMRAY - AP Sports Writer ,

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Adriaan Strauss of South Africa runs at the Australian defence during the 2016 Castle Lager Rugby Championship game between South Africa and Australia at Loftus Versveld, Pretoria.

Adriaan Strauss of South Africa runs at the Australian defence during the 2016 Castle Lager Rugby Championship game between South Africa and Australia at Loftus Versveld, Pretoria. (Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix)

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — South Africa scrapped to an 18-10 win over a wasteful Australia in the Rugby Championship on Saturday to relieve a little of the pressure on beleaguered coach Allister Coetzee.

All of South Africa's points came from the boot of recalled veteran flyhalf Morne Steyn — seemingly the Springboks' go-to man in times of trouble — in a messy game in which Australia dominated on the territory and possession statistics to no avail.

Somehow South Africa won, holding up the Australians with scrambling, desperate defense, utilizing a strong set-piece, and relying on Steyn to kick the points in a conservative but ultimately effective game plan.

"That is what test rugby is all about," Coetzee said. "Knocking that three, six, nine points. It's how you win a test match."

Steyn knocked them over: Two dropped goals, one at the beginning and one at the end of the game, to go with his four penalties, ending South Africa's three-game losing streak.

"It's tough coming back from three losses. The critics are there. It's a great way to shut them up," said Steyn, who appeared to be heading toward retirement before Coetzee turned to him for the Pretoria test.

Steyn was making his first test start in two years, and was back at the ground where he used to play his provincial rugby.

Australia, bright in the opening minutes and more creative throughout, rumbled over for the only try through prop Scott Sio in the 14th minute. But the Australians didn't score at all after the conversion of Sio's try despite having the ball in the Springboks' half for most of the game, and nearly all of the second half.

"That sums it up. We take our points down there we win the game," Australia coach Michael Cheika said.

Australia was hampered by the sin-binning of fullback Israel Folau, for obstructing wing Bryan Habana, just before halftime.

Ultimately, both teams showed at Loftus Versfeld that they are way behind world champion New Zealand. South Africa led 12-10 at halftime — after coming back from 10-3 down — and it took 35 minutes for the first points of the second half to come. Australia was scoreless for the last 65 minutes.

Leading by two, South Africa sealed its pressure-relieving victory by breaking out of its half twice in the last five minutes to set up a late penalty and the second dropped goal from Steyn.

As South Africa ended the run of defeats, Australia's mini-revival after successive wins came to a halt at the Pretoria ground where the Wallabies have still never won in seven attempts.

Saturday was probably their best chance in a long time against a panicky Springboks lineup but chances were missed and Reece Hodge was crucially wayward with two penalties in the space of a minute early in the second half that might have spurred the Aussies on.

Captain Stephen Moore denied there was a "mental block" for the Wallabies at Loftus, with their losing streak trailing back to 1963.

"That had nothing to do with it," Moore said. "It's just our shape was a little bit out. It was nothing to do with the ground, honestly. That's peripheral."

South Africa's unconvincing victory puts the Springboks second on the championship standings — New Zealand has already sealed the title — ahead of the All Blacks' game in Argentina later Saturday.

South Africa ends at home against the All Blacks next weekend, while Australia plays Argentina in London in the last round.

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