Kurtley Beale has done his best to recover from a first-minute brain explosion, but it wasn’t enough to stem the bleeding as the struggling Wallabies fell 23-12 to the Springboks in Port Elizabeth.
Things couldn’t have started worse for the visitors after Beale’s ambitious pass was intercepted in the 24th second and South Africa quickly jumped to a 14-0 lead on Saturday night.
Australia did well to recover and threw a bulk of the late punches as they controlled 78 per cent of possession in the second half.
But, like a fortnight ago in the Gold Coast loss to Argentina, they lacked the polish needed to exploit it and eventually ran out of gas in the face of incredible cover defence.
It marked their sixth loss from eight Tests this year and adds further pressure on coach Michael Cheika and his squad less than 12 months out from the World Cup.
Beale’s bewildering 24th-second speculator looked destined for nobody other than Springboks winger Aphiwe Dyantyi, who caught the floating pass just metres from the tryline for a gift five-pointer.
It set the tone for a manic opening 20 minutes in front of nearly 42,000 boisterous fans at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium before they rallied to head to the sheds only 20-12 down.
“I thought he came back from that pretty well really,” the coach said of his No.10.
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“That would’ve spooked him a bit, but I thought the rest of his game was pretty solid.
“It was two tries all – we basically gave one away and then we had a lot of good footy – but you’ve got to capitalise on your moments don’t you.”
David Pocock was arguably Australia’s best with three clean steals in the first 40 minutes, steadying the side before Will Genia manufactured some points.
First the scrumhalf cut out two men in a perfect assist for Reece Hodge in the corner.
Then he finished a five-pointer created by fullback Dane Haylett-Petty’s bust and offload to make it 17-12 in the 34th minute.
Earlier Faf de Klerk slid through after Handre Pollard broke Folau Fainga’a’s tackle to make it 14-0 in the 21st minute.
Rassie Erasmus’s side backed up well from their defeat of the All Blacks a fortnight ago, making nearly double the tackles of Australia (146-77) and continually shutting down the visitor’s expansive forays.
But he was equally critical of his side’s efficiency, cheekily suggesting it could have been far uglier for the visitors.
“We didn’t play tactically well, but the guts the boys showed, the character again was great,” South African coach Rassie Erasmus said.
“We definitely created a hell of a lot of opportunities; I thought if we scored (from them) we could’ve given them a good, good hiding.”
The Wallabies now head straight to Argentina, where they play Los Pumas next weekend in Salta.
Hamstrung hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau won’t make the journey after his late withdrawal from the side in South Africa, with Tolu Latu en route to South America as his replacement.