By Nick Said
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Rookie scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies scored two tries on debut as South Africa claimed a 35-17 bonus-point victory over sloppy Australia in their Rugby Championship clash at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Jantjies has been the find of the season in South African rugby, having risen from obscurity in recent months at the Stormers, and he looks to have booked a Rugby World Cup ticket as the Springboks scored further tries through lock Lood De Jager, wing Sbu Nkosi and replacement scrumhalf Cobus Reinach.
Australia had dominated much of the first half but too many unforced errors left them trailing 14-10 at the break, only for the Boks to pull away in the second period in front of 51,206 in Johannesburg.
The visitors’ tries came via flyhalf Bernard Foley and wing Dane Haylett-Petty, who also botched a second score in a horror moment with the tryline gaping.
“We were very lucky today, they knocked the ball on over the tryline and had a try disallowed for a forward pass. Otherwise we would have been in trouble,” Bok coach Rassie Erasmus said.
“It was not close to a world-class performance. Some individuals putting up their hands is what we will take out of the game, but the performance itself will not get us into the play-offs at the World Cup.
“The worry was about the rustiness and combinations and that came through during the game. It was stop-start and a bit frustrating.”
Australia promised a more incisive attacking game this year and there were signs of that, with some excellent handling that deserved a better final product.
“We created a lot of good opportunities and gave a couple away as well,” a rueful Australia coach Michael Cheika said.
“We did a lot of things that we have been preparing. We scored two tries and I was happy with a lot of things we have been working on.
“We showed a lot of good signs, it was the first time we have put some of these things on the field. It will build as the season goes on.”
The Boks hit the front on 11 minutes with Jantjies’ first score as he finished a break from Nkosi, but were reduced to 14 when centre Andre Esterhuizen received a yellow card for a high tackle.
Somewhat against the run of play they added a second score when De Jager was able to burrow over from close range.
Haylett-Petty crossed for Australia in the corner, but the wing should have had a second soon afterwards when he fluffed a magnificent opportunity.
Without a defender in sight, he only had to place the ball over the line but inexplicably knocked it on as the Boks led 14-10 at halftime.
A yellow card for prop Taniela Tupou’s reduced the visitors to 14 and Nkosi crossed in the corner, before Jantjies capped an excellent debut with his second, sniping around the side of the ruck as the visitors left the smallest of gaps for him to burst through.
Foley reduced the deficit to 11 points for Australia with his score, but the Boks secured the bonus-point as Reinach brushed off a defender and crossed with the last play of the game.
(Reporting By Nick Said; editing by Tony Lawrence)