Beale blunder costs Wallabies in South Africa
A BRAIN snap intercept try after just 24 seconds forced the Wallabies to scramble, fumble and fight before frittering away another Test with a 23-12 loss to South Africa in Port Elizabeth.
The impact of that horror start was hammered home when the Wallabies had a huge chance late in the game with the Springboks down to 14 men with winger Aphiwe Dyantyi in the sin bin.
The men in gold could not score a point in that period from the 65th minute despite camping in the Boks' quarter and a Test that could have been far closer was gone.
The brutal bottom line is that the Wallabies have now won just two of their last 10 Tests and the nerve of Rugby Australia is being tested like never before to keep backing the coach in charge.
The Wallabies were messy too often with 65 per cent of the ball. There was ample starch to the defence and backrower David Pocock and fullback Dane Haylett-Petty (16 runs for 98m) were superb.
Lock Adam Coleman played strongly, halfback Will Genia worked to a standstill and Kurtley Beale never stopped trying to conjure a strike-back in the 79-and-half good minutes he played. It was credit to Beale's resilience that he came back so hard.
The Wallabies have made some scrambled starts to Tests over the years but rarely as irrational as in this one.
It wasn't just that Beale attempted a needless 15m cutout pass just metres from his own tryline to skipper Michael Hooper wide on the right.
The stupid pass was intercepted by the flying Dyantyi just centimetres from Hooper's grasp and dotted down for a 7-0 own goal from the Australians.
Beale completely misread the whole occasion. The entire build-up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the late Nelson Mandela's birth had the Boks pumped to the limit.
Beale should have played the sensible, solid start with a thumping kick to bring the vibe down a notch, instead of setting off another sonic boom from the 41,332-strong crowd that had just finished belting out a stirring South African anthem.
Coach Michael Cheika keeps preaching bold but not risky.
It was a shocker from Beale and signs of being rattled continued. Rookie hooker Folau Fainga'a, starting his first Test, couldn't catch cleanly the first two passes thrown at him and missed the first-up tackle on flyhalf Handre Pollard when he sliced threw to set up the Faf de Klerk try.
An early lineout throw to Hooper was picked off and the Wallabies looked all at sea at 14-0 down just past the 20-minute mark.
"We created some very good opportunities and then we just couldn't get the finish on them," coach Michael Cheika said.
"It was two tries apiece and 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..
"I thought Kurtley came back from that (intercept) really well. I'm sure that would have spooked him a bit but I thought the rest of his game was pretty solid because he was instrumental in a lot of our attacking setups."
The Wallabies were solid enough at the lineout except really vital ones like the bungled 5m lineout when replacement hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa couldn't connect a throw with Coleman at the back.
Amid the ragged play, Haylett-Petty stood tall in the first half with eight runs for 62m and six tackle busts. Centre Reece Hodge was strong too and Coleman was a forceful figure for the pack in that difficult opening half.
The momentum did turn with the first settled, sustained play by the Australians in the first half but it took 23 minutes to find it. Coleman made a charge and popped a ball to Hooper and a Will Genia grubber to five metres out was just smart Test rugby.
Shortly after, Genia was spiralling a long cutout ball for Hodge to go over in the corner.
It was two tries in three minutes when Genia dashed over himself after Haylett-Petty had expertly taken off and beaten two tackles after catching a high ball. Hodge and winger Marika Koroibete sustained the raid and Genia, with two touches, took the final pass to score.
The ship was nearly back on an even keel but two penalty goals to Pollard pushed the gap to 20-12 by halftime.
Backrower Pocock was immense and three turnovers at the breakdown stemmed dangerous South African situations.
"We needed to take the opportunity there (against 14 men), take one try there we're in with a chance to win the game," captain Michael Hooper said.
Hooper said the team quickly refocused after the Beale intercept.
"We looked up after 18 seconds and there was a try against you...what can you do," Hooper said.
"The message doesn't change from when you ran out so you focus and go again. I was really proud of the team getting back to (12-14)."
Both Cheika and Hooper agreed it was a clear step up in positive energy and performance from the shabby 23-19 loss to Argentina two weeks ago.
"For sure (there were positives). We were down 14-0 in a cauldron atmosphere and considering where we've been at, we held our nerve really well and fought our way back into the game," Cheika said.
"I don't think we dominated enough of the physical contest but we still managed to manufacture a lot of opportunities."
Cheika had a gripe with several issues at the lineout and the prevalence of knocked-down passes by the rushing Boks defence that didn't trigger a yellow card.
"They steal one off us and it's play on when they have six (players in the lineout) and we have five," Cheika said.
"I know the games we play when there are slapdowns, our guy keeps going to the bin.
"They are playing a hard line speed with hands out in front of the ball and no one is going anywhere when it's knocked down so we need to get clarity there."
Pollard banged over his third penalty goal and five-from-five in the fluctuating breeze at the 44-minute mark and that was it for the scoring.
The Wallabies had a clear plan to beat the rush defence of the South Africans by shifting cut out balls to the edges. Hooper finished with 13 runs and 98m with his wide attacks.
More variety with the switch ball inside that was practised at training may have opened up the stout South Africans who were immense in defence just as they were to beat the All Blacks.
Israel Folau had a subdued game. He did catch one cross kick to the corner from Beale but the Boks repelled him 2m out.
Hodge was swamped five metres short in the second half too.
Chances again, no result.
South Africa 23 (Aphiwe Dyantyi, Faf de Klerk tries; Handre Pollard 2 conversions, 3 penalties) defeated Australia 12 (Reece Hodge, Will Genia tries; Matt Toomua conversion). HT: 20-12