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SA start Tri nations with home win

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A last-minute drop goal by South Africa fly-half Andre Pretorius sealed a 22-16 victory over Australia Saturday in the opening match of the Tri-Nations championship.

A much improved second-half performance by the title holders secured success at packed Loftus Stadium after a George Smith try on the stroke of half-time gave the visitors a 13-6 half-time advantage.

Fullback Percy Montgomery raised his Springbok Test points tally to a record 500 with a 73rd-minute penalty to edge the Springboks ahead 19-16 and man-of-the-match Pretorius struck after the home team won their scrum in front of the posts.

“We knew it was going to be tough and it was great the way we came back after a lacklustre first-half performance. There are three very tough games to come,” warned Springbok skipper and hooker John Smit.

Coach Jake White admitted: “That was a real Test. This sort of result is what it is all about. We really had to fight for victory. We didn’t play that well so it was great to win such a close encounter.”

Australia skipper and scrum-half George Gregan said: “We knew South Africa would come back and Percy (Montgomery) did well to land that penalty under so much pressure.”

Coach Eddie Jones said: “We are obviously disappointed to lose after getting into a great position to win. We had chances in the second half to close it out, but we couldn’t take them.”

South Africa collect four points for winning and Australia one for failing by less than seven points.

The championship continues at Newlands in Cape Town next Saturday when South Africa host tournament favourites the All Blacks.

It was a much tighter, tougher Test than last weekend when South Africa punished careless Australian passing to score two intercept tries en route to a 33-20 triumph in the Nelson Mandela Challenge.

A Wallabies team showing five changes, including the late replacement of injured number eight David Lyons by John Roe, performed far better up front while Gregan raised his game from Ellis Park.

South Africa coach Jake White will be happy that victory was achieved despite modest performances from many of his side, who could not exert a stranglehold on a match in which there was never more than seven points between the countries.

Montgomery contributed 14 points from three penalties, a drop goal and the conversion of a Breyton Paulse try 11 minutes into the second half. Pretorius completed the total with his drop goal.

Australia centre Matt Giteau had a 100 percent place kicking record with three penalties and the conversion of a Smith try that came from sustained pressure in which Gregan figured prominently.

Montgomery put South Africa ahead after four minutes in warm, clear winter conditions and Giteau restored equality midway through the opening match as Australia sought their first Test win at Loftus.

Another Montgomery penalty was just off target before Giteau edged Australia ahead with a close-range penalty, earning his side a three-point advantage that lasted less than one minute.

It was Montgomery who struck again, clutching a loose ball to the right of the posts and dropping a goal that kept the teams deadlocked at six points each until Smith went over after slipping between flanker Joe van Niekerk and lock Victor Matfield.

Rattled South Africa needed to score first in the second half and they did when a rare passing movement saw Pretorius put Paulse clear and the veteran France-bound wing raced over with Montgomery adding the conversions to bring the teams level at 13 points each.

Giteau and Montgomery exchanged penalties within four minutes before Montgomery demonstrated coolness under pressure to land another kick at the posts from an acute angle.

A rousing finish by the Springboks kept the ball in the Wallabies half and Pretorius, who failed miserably with another drop goal attempt, sent the ball sailing between the posts to the relief of an anxious crowd.

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