Recalled Cooper kicks Australia to upset win over Springboks

Australia (AP) — Quade Cooper had a perfect night with the boot and kicked Australia to victory with a penalty goal after the full-time siren to complete a 28-26 upset over World Cup champion South Africa on Sunday.

Cooper was a surprising selection to face the Springboks for his first test since 2017 after Australia was swept by New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup, which also counted as the first two games of the Rugby Championship.

The mercurial flyhalf didn’t miss an opportunity. The 33-year-old Cooper landed six penalties and a conversion at 100% accuracy for 23 points, leading Australia to its first win of the tournament.

The Springboks were coming off a series win over the British and Irish Lions and back-to-back wins over Argentina in South Africa and had rallied from an eight-point deficit in the second half to lead the Wallabies 26-25 going into the final minutes.

But they don’t win often in Australia’s northeastern Queensland state, and were undone by some uncharacteristic missed place kicks. Handre Pollard missed three and Damian Willemse was unable to convert from near the sideline in the 73rd minute.

Both teams had to grind in an attritional game that featured four yellow cards — two for each team.

Australia led 19-11 at halftime, with Cooper contributing 14 points via three penalty goals and a conversion.

Pollard and Cooper exchanged penalties to make it 6-6 before momentum shifted when Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi was yellow carded in the 16th minute for a dangerous tackle on Australian fullback Tom Banks.

The Australians scored quickly with the one-man advantage as Samu Kerevi made a break in the midfield and floated a pass to Andrew Kellaway, who stepped inside the defense on the right wing.

Pollard missed a goal in the 22nd and South Africa missed another scoring chance four minutes later when center Am Lukhanyo knocked-on in the tackle of Australian scrumhalf Tate McDermott after chasing a kick into the in-goal area.

After being repelled in repeated phases on the tryline, South Africa capitalized in the 28th after Australian lock Matt Philip was yellow carded for collapsing a rolling maul. Hooker Bongi Mbonambi dived over from the back of a driving maul to make it 13-11, but Pollard missed the conversion.

Cooper added two penalties before the break and Pollard missed another shot at goal early in the second half before Pollard landed a penalty from in front to close the gap to 19-14 in the 46th.

Cooper restored Australia’s eight-point cushion with a penalty in the 53rd after Pollard was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on out wide with the Wallabies on attack.

But the Springboks scored two more tries via replacement hooker Malcom Marx from close-range mauls and appeared to have the edge until the late penalty.

New Zealand leads the Rugby Championship with 15 points from three big wins. The next double header is in Brisbane next Saturday, when Australia and South Africa meeting in a rematch and New Zealand playing Argentina again.