South Africa beats Wallabies 23-12 in Rugby Championship

Australia's Dane Haylett-Petty takes possession of the ball during the rugby test match against South Africa in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. (AP Photo)
Australia's Folau Faingaa tackles South Africa's Andre Esterhuizen during their rugby test match in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. (AP Photo)
Australia's Will Genia passes the ball on during the rugby test match against South Africa, in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. (AP Photo)
Australia's Ned Hanigan, front right, is tackled by South Africa's Pieter-Steph du Toit during their rugby test match in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. (AP Photo)
South Africa's Willie le Roux, back right and Australia's Israel Folau, front right, do battle for the ball during their rugby test match in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. (AP Photo)

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa — South Africa rode its defense to another win in the Rugby Championship, scoring an intercept try inside the first 30 seconds and then holding out for the entire second half to beat Australia 23-12 on Saturday.

Aphiwe Dyantyi poached Kurtley Beale's long pass on the Australia tryline in the first skirmishes and the Springboks led for the rest of the game.

South Africa kept its advantage despite Australia making all the play in the second half. But the Wallabies couldn't score a point in that second 40 despite having tons of possession and territory.

South Africa, like in its stunning upset of world champion New Zealand in the last round, survived through its never-give-in defending, some of it fierce and in your face, some desperate and scrambling.

"We didn't play tactically well but in the second half the guts the boys showed, the character, is great," Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus said.

Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk added a second try for South Africa before, down 14-0, Australia responded with scores by Reece Hodge and Will Genia in a three-minute spell.

But Springboks flyhalf Handre Pollard kicked three penalties in a row and Australia out of the game.

Pollard's third penalty, in the sixth minute of the second half, was the final score by either team.

Australia ran the game after that but South Africa's defense wouldn't give in, even when down to 14 men from a yellow card to Dyantyi in the 65th.

"We got to a position where, backend of the game, we had some huge opportunities to make some points and couldn't get there," Australia captain Michael Hooper said. "We take one try there (when South Africa is down to 14 men), we're in with a chance of winning the game. We didn't take that try."

South Africa has two straight wins after surprising the All Blacks — and world rugby — in the last round.

Australia has lost two in a row and won just twice in its last 10 games.

"No one wants to win more than me, trust me," said coach Michael Cheika, who is under pressure to keep his job for the Rugby World Cup next year. "The tough situations come and they go away and the tough people will stay. It depends if you want to cry about it and sook (sulk), or get on with getting improvements."

Although brave in defense, South Africa didn't follow through on a dominant start in attack, when Dyantyi took advantage of an adventurous and ultimately foolish decision by Beale to throw a long pass outside him when standing in front of his own goalposts. The South Africa wing pounced for a sixth try in eight tests.

De Klerk and Pollard combined for the second try but South Africa's control of the game dissipated after that and the Boks defended almost without letup for the last 35 minutes, with blindside flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit earning man of the match for making a mountain of bruising tackles again, like he did in New Zealand.

"At the end of the game I sometimes ask if it's worth it," Du Toit said, "but it's a happy pain."

The Wallabies were coming off a shock first home loss to Argentina in 35 years. Cheika said there were some positives despite defeat again.

"Hey, we were down 14-0 in a bit of a cauldron atmosphere," he said, "and considering where we've been in the last few weeks and everything that's been happening to us, I suppose, we held our nerve really well and fought our way back into the game."

Shaken at the start, Australia closed to 14-12 after Hodge finished in the right corner and Genia worked a clever move with left wing Marika Koroibete down the blindside and took a return pass to go in.

The Springboks turned to Pollard to re-establish scoreboard advantage. It was enough, along with the Herculean defense.

The result kept the Rugby Championship title out of New Zealand's hands, but only for a few hours. New Zealand clinched a third straight southern hemisphere title with a 35-17 win over Argentina later Saturday in Buenos Aires.

South Africa, which will finish second, and New Zealand meet in Pretoria, South Africa in the last round next weekend. Australia plays in Argentina.

___

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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