Robbie Deans rued his side’s three yellow cards but was pleased with how the Wallabies coped with the numerical disadvantage.
Richard Brown and Matt Giteau were sin binned in the final 10 minutes of the first half, but the Boks failed to capitalise fully and only put three points on the scoreboard during that period. John Smit acknowledged the clever territorial game the visitors adopted with the pair out, but Deans said the defending done took too much out of his side.
‘The yellow cards made life a lot harder, but it was a pretty good effort with 13 men,’ said Deans. ‘Our defence was good under the circumstances, but our energy was sapped. To come out and win that second half [7-6] under the duress we were under was pretty special.
‘The cards didn’t help our prospects in the game though. I’m not sure of the number of penalties we gave away, but I think eight out of 13 were shots at goal, seven were converted and that makes life very difficult. When you score two tries to one, you don’t normally lose, but we gave away too many penalties.
‘There were also too many unforced errors,’ he continued. ‘Some were forced on us by the Boks, but you have to eradicate the unforced ones as that let’s in your opponents unnecessarily.’
George Smith, who was also carded with two minutes remaining for repeated infringements, said they stuck to the basics while their flank and flyhalf were off the pitch.
‘Our backs were against the wall, we stuck to our disciplines and what we’ve done in training and out defence was impenetrable,’ said Smith. ‘We showed we could also play well during that period, but you can’t allow South Africa the lead they had.’
The visitors also had to do without their captain Stirling Mortlock, who limped off with a knee injury after half an hour. Fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper moved into the midfield, while 19-year-old James O’Connor took his place in the last line of defence.
‘The boys coped well with all the adjustments,’ said Deans. ‘Stirling has gone to hospital for some exploratory work to find out what’s wrong with the ligament. We’ll have to wait and see.’
Berrick Barnes, who was key in pinning the Boks in their own half during the period they had players out, praised the Boks’ kicking game.
‘They varied their use of the boot, and Morne Steyn put in a few cross-kicks, while Fourie du Preez was on a six pence once again,’ said the Australian centre.
The Boks will face the Wallabies in Perth on 29 August and they could seal the Tri-Nations title with what could be a crucial away triumph. Smith said Australia would learn from the errors and be a tougher prospect than they were at Newlands.
‘The Boks are a very good side, we’ve seen that in the last three matches,’ he said. ‘Next time we’ll be much better than tonight.’
By Grant Ball, at Newlands