Quade Cooper marked a memorable return to Australia's line-up and converted a match-winning penalty as the Wallabies beat world champions South Africa 28-26 on Sunday.
A feisty affair at Cbus Super Stadium saw several contentious calls and multiple sin bins for both teams as Cooper’s four-year absence from the team ended in triumphant fashion.
The former Queensland Reds star hasn’t featured for the Wallabies since June 2017, but the No. 10 looked at home as he marshalled a sterling effort against the reigning world champions.
The two teams exchanged blows before South Africa came back to move within sight of the win, only for Cooper to dash their hopes with the last kick of the game.
Duane Vermeulen ended his own exile as the Springboks No. 8 made his first appearance since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, though his wasn’t the comeback he’d dreamed of.
South Africa came into this fixture on the back of successive wins over Argentina, while Australia were bottom of the pile following consecutive defeats to New Zealand.
Despite that deficit in the Rugby Championship table, Australia looked well able to keep up with their ‘hosts’ in what was South Africa’s home leg of this particular double-header.
Cooper and counterpart Handre Pollard exchanged early attempts at goal, with the two fly-halves converting two penalties apiece as the breakdown battle took centre stage.
The tight margins were highlighted when Springboks captain Siya Kolisi was sent to the sin bin for a tip tackle on Wallabies full-back Tom Banks only 15 minutes in.
South Africa’s leader has been largely faultless for his country in recent years, leading their charges to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and a series win over the British and Irish Lions.
And that presence was noticeably missing as Australia swiftly glided through for the game’s opening score, with Andrew Kellaway dotting down for his fourth try in as many Test starts.
Should Quade Cooper keep Australia's No. 10 jersey? Let us know in the comments section.
Samu Kerevi continues to enjoy a happy return to the side and laid a strong foundation for Australia to attack, with Kellaway dummying off the right to score behind the posts.
South Africa threatened to score themselves and should have equalised through Lukhanyo Am, but the centre was somehow unable to touch the ball down with control following a superb chip through.
But just as the Boks were boosted back to 15 men with Kolisi’s return to the field, Wallabies lock Matt Philip was sent for a cool-off period of his own for repeated ruck infringements.
Their opponents didn’t require any more encouragement as hooker Bongi Mbonambi drove over for South Africa’s first try off a line-out soon after, though Pollard couldn’t apply the conversion.
Brumbies youngster Noah Lolesio encountered scrutiny as Australia’s starting fly-half during the recent three-Test series with New Zealand, missing kicks and wasting possession in the red zone.
In that sense, however, Cooper’s experience appeared to improve matters in those fields, slotting a penalty to improve their lead shortly prior to half-time.
The recalled veteran was heavily involved as Australia arguably should have crossed over again just before the interval, settling for another penalty and a 19-11 lead at the break instead.
That marked the first time in seven Tests this year that the Wallabies have led at half-time, not to mention against a Springboks team that has looked largely peerless thus far in 2021.
Not all that improvement could be attributed to Cooper’s introduction alone, though there could be no doubting his influence on proceedings, providing calm and creativity in equal measure.
Opposite number Pollard had a chance to cut the deficit early in the second half but crashed his penalty off the upright to keep the Springboks eight points adrift.
Michael Hooper’s overzealous play at the breakdown gave South Africa’s No. 10 a swift chance to make up for that miss, however, and Pollard duly delivered this time around.
Nic White replaced Tate McDermott at the break to give Cooper a new half-back dance partner, and that pairing proved similarly problematic for Jacques Nienaber’s side to defend.
It was a pass from White that threatened to put Len Ikitau in to score in the 52nd minute, ultimately earning Willie le Roux a yellow card for his interception attempt ending in a knock-on.
Cooper was called upon again to make the Springboks pay for their error and happily converted from the tee, another demonstration of the 33-year-old’s cool demeanour under pressure.
Not to be outdone in the poor discipline department, however, the Wallabies quickly incurred another yellow card of their own when hooker Folau Fainga’a was pulled up for a no-arms tackle.
South Africa substitute Malcom Marx shortly dished out the punishment and followed Mbonambi onto the scoreboard with an almost carbon-copy score from the rolling maul, briefly bringing his side within a point.
Cooper kept up his 100 per cent record from the tee with a difficult kick out to the right, with the two teams maintaining a back-and-forth chess approach.
And Nienaber's side stuck with a winning formula in their response, loading the maul once more to cross the whitewash again via Marx and restore a 26-25 lead.
It played into South Africa's hands to keep play tight and defend the lead until the last whistle, but White had other plans after suffocating a No. 8 pick-up to win a penalty with seconds remaining.
Cooper stepped up ahead of substitute Reece Hodge and struck with confidence from 45 metres or so out to decide the match with the last kick of the match.
Australia have six days to prepare for a second clash against the world champions and will host the Springboks in their ‘home’ game at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.
The Wallabies have finally secured Rugby Championship points and have the slightest glimmer of challenging for the title, with Cooper reborn in a Wallabies jersey.
Source: Read Full Article