Wallabies beat Springboks in Rugby World Cup thriller
David Pocock produced the best individual performance of the 2011 tournament to single-handedly keep Australia in the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.
DAVID POCOCK produced the best individual performance of the 2011 tournament to single-handedly keep Australia in the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.
Relieved Wallabies coach Robbie Deans agreed with a host of experts in lavishing praise on Pocock’s “immense” display in the nerve-wracking 11-9 quarter-final victory over South Africa in Wellington.
The defending champion Springboks could only bemoan the openside flanker’s huge influence at the breakdown, and question whistle-blower Bryce Lawrence’s refereeing, as they dominated every other facet of the game but still crashed out.
South Africa enjoyed 76 per cent of the territory and 55 per cent of possession, rattled Australia off-key halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper, and dismantled the Wallabies lineout but could not score a try.
Wallabies skipper James Horwill was the only player to cross in the scrappy, intense affair, punishing an early Boks turnover near their line to set up an 8-0 lead after 16 minutes.
The 2007 champions easily won the kicking battle and happily set up camp in the opposition half to grind their way back and hit the front at 9-8 through a Morne Steyn field goal midway through the second half.
In the end, the youngest Wallaby, James O’Connor, stepped up to sink the most experienced Test team in history with a late 33m penalty goal.
The gutsy Australian defence was brilliant across the park, making 147 tackles to 53, and missing just two more than the Boks (13-11), but Pocock produced the pivotal plays.
The man-of-the-match constantly arrived first at the breakdown to continually force pressure-relieving turnovers and penalties.
He saved the Wallabies’ bacon so many times that there was no logical way to explain why they were still in the match when O’Connor slotted his 70th-minute three-pointer after Radike Samo was taken out at the lineout.
“The Wallabies without Pocock is like Hamlet without the prince,” said former British Lions playmaker Stuart Barnes.
Deans, not usually one for bold statements, could not take issue with the general consensus that 34,914 fans at the Cake Tin witnessed the best display of the 2011 tournament.
“Immense. David Pocock’s game was remarkable,” he said, looking forward to a head-to-head with Richie McCaw in next week’s semi-final against New Zealand.
“And it was bigger than he got credit for.
“He’s clearly a huge influence in any game he plays in and we’d clearer be poorer for his absence.”
Back on deck for his first full game since missing the 15-6 pool loss to Ireland, Pocock credited pure desperation for the get-of-jail result.
“The really pleasing thing tonight was that we just kept going and kept persevering and got the result,” he said.
The Springboks were hamstrung by the 20th-minute loss of their ball scavenger Heinrich Brussow, who succumbed to an existing injury.
“I think it was definitely a blow for them,” Pocock admitted. “He’s a quality player and he puts a lot of pressure on the breakdown.”
For playmaker Cooper it was a forgettable performance as the Wallabies too often kicked, and poorly, but he did manage to pull off a try-saving tackle on Fourie du Preez in the second half after a botched Genia pass near the line.
Among the relief for Australia was concern for inside centre Pat McCabe who is again in doubt with his shoulder problem while fullback Kurtley Beale was replaced with hamstring tightness.
Deans said they would know more in 48 hours but McCabe was one of the heroes for his first-half display, tackling himself into the ground and having a hand in Horwill’s try.