GOLD COAST (AFP) – Quade Cooper held his nerve to nail a last-gasp penalty on his international comeback on Sunday (Sept 12) to be Australia’s hero in a nail-biting 28-26 Rugby Championship upset of world champions South Africa.
The 33-year-old, in his first Test in four years, slotted an amazing eight-from-eight kicks to score 23 of the Wallabies points in a triumphant return.
Australia came into the match after three demoralising defeats against the All Blacks, but with Cooper back as playmaker, they proved a different team.
Playing his 71st Test, he provided attacking flair and authority to help steer them to victory against an experienced Springboks, who beat Argentina twice at home last month after a series win against the British and Irish Lions.
After Australia took a 19-11 lead into the second half, the gutsy Springboks battled back and were 25-26 in front with a minute left.
But they threw the game away with a needless penalty as the siren sounded and the unflappable Cooper stepped to nail a long-range kick that sent the crowd wild.
“It’s a good bounce back, a good reply,” said Michael Hooper, who equalled George Gregan’s record for most Tests as Wallabies captain, after the flanker led the side for a 59th time.
“Quade is a big-time player and he stepped up and said ‘I’ve got it’ and he nailed it,” he added of the match-winning penalty.
It was a much-needed win for coach Dave Rennie after the team crashed to the All Blacks three times in the space of a month as he continues building his young team towards the 2023 World Cup.
With Cooper on the field and Hooper tireless as ever, their discipline was better and the handling errors that marred their past performances improved.
“They played all the way to the end and they showed great fight,” said South Africa captain Siya Kolisi, who benefited from having star forward Duane Vermeulen and scrum-half Faf de Klerk returning from injury.
“Our discipline wasn’t good and we didn’t take opportunities when we had them.”
South Africa’s Handre Pollard and Cooper traded two penalties each in the opening 12 minutes to get the scoreboard ticking over.
But the game turned in Australia’s favour when Kolisi was sent to the sin bin for a dangerous lifting tackle, with the South Africa captain fortunate not to get a red.
It cost his side with Samu Kerevi making a break and throwing a perfect pass to winger Andrew Kellaway who sidestepped his way to the opening try barely a minute later, with Cooper adding the extras.
With Kolisi back and the Springboks pressing hard, it was the Wallabies’ Matt Philip’s turn to see yellow and the visitors capitalised with big hooker Bongi Mbonambi crashing over for a try.
Pollard fluffed the conversion and with Copper adding two more penalties the Wallabies took a deserved 19-11 lead into the break.
Pollard pulled three points back but the pendulum again swung Australia’s way when star fullback Willie le Roux was sin binned for a deliberate knock on and Copper nailed his fifth penalty.
But a fourth yellow of the night, by Australian hooker Folau Fainga’a for dangerous play, allowed the world champions to strike back with Malcolm Marx dotting down after a big drive.
Cooper slotted a difficult 40-metre penalty to keep Australia ahead but South Africa kept coming with their pack too big and strong as Marx bundled over for another try with 10 minutes left.
It gave them a 26-25 lead which looked to be enough until Cooper ruined their night.
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