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Australia beats South Africa at Rugby Championship

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Associated Press
9/8/2012 10:22:54 AM
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PERTH, Australia -- Australia's Ben Alexander and Scott Higginbotham scored second-half tries as the Wallabies beat South Africa 26-19 on Saturday for their first win in the four-nation Rugby Championship.

Trailing 13-6 at halftime, Alexander made the big second-half play with 11 minutes left and the scores level at 19-19. He made a 15-meter charge down the blindside and Berrick Barnes converted from the sideline to give Australia its fifth straight win over South Africa.

Bryan Habana scored South Africa's only try.

The result left New Zealand, which beat Argentina 21-5 earlier Saturday, in first place in the Rugby Championship with 12 points, five ahead of South Africa. Australia has 4 points and Argentina 2.

The Springboks opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a penalty goal by flyhalf Morne Steyn after the Wallabies were penalized for not releasing the ball. Australia levelled 14 minutes later with a Berrick Barnes penalty.

Six minutes later, the Springboks scored the only try of the first half following a number of quick-phase passes which saw winger Habana cross just to the left of the posts, with Steyn converting.

South Africa went further ahead when Australia was penalized from entering the ruck from the side and Steyn's kick from almost 50 metres out on a slight angle gave the visitors a 13-3 lead.

Australia closed the gap to its halftime deficit of 13-6 in the 29th minute on Barnes' penalty after the South Africans collapsed the preceding scrum.

After back-to-back Bledisloe Cup losses to New Zealand, Australia coach Robbie Deans' future had looked precarious before the match. However, replacement Higginbotham finally broke a 178-minute Australian try-scoring drought when he burst through just two minutes after coming onto the field for No. 8 Radike Samo.

Though Australia had failed to score a point in four consecutive halves of football, Higginbotham's effort in the 56th minute put the Wallabies in front 16-13 -- their first lead of the match.

"The team has been criticized in the past for not scoring enough tries," said winger Dom Shipperley, who was making his test debut for Australia. "So to score two in one test, especially against South Africa, is pretty good and I guess to come from behind and just grind it out."

Deans said he was pleased that the Wallabies fought back from deficits throughout the game.

"We struggled to get out of our end and we contributed to a large part of that, so it was frustrating, but the boys made progress and their response to adversity was superb," Deans said. "I was proud of the courage they showed to be three times behind and work their way back."

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer blamed inexperience for his side's loss.

"I thought the first 60 minutes we really executed well and really put them under pressure, but there were two soft moments in the game that cost us," said Meyer. "At this level away from home, you can't make those mistakes."

Next Saturday, the Springboks travel to Dunedin, New Zealand to play the All Blacks while Australia hosts Argentina on the Gold Coast in Queensland state.

Ben Alexander (Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
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