One of Australian rugby's most dramatic weeks has ended in a fittingly bizarre manner, with the Wallabies playing out a 23-23 draw against the Springboks.
After an emotional week in Western Australia and across the Australian rugby community, finally the focus was back on the field for 80 minutes on Saturday night, though the broader issues were certainly visible.
Western Force fans turned up in their team jerseys, a show of solidarity for their team axed from Super Rugby and a reminder of the anger they feel towards the ARU.
That animosity did not seep into the game, fans simply cheering louder for their Force representatives and a ‘Force, Force, Force’ chant breaking out before kick-off, and again in the 45th minute.
That kick-off was an uninspiring start for the Wallabies, falling short of the required 10 metres, but things could only improve from there.An early penalty gave Elton Jantjies the chance to add to his Rugby Championship tally, before Bernard Foley evened things up four minutes later.
The Wallabies turned up the pace of the game, though it remained a scrappy affair, and the home side was bullied at their attacking ruck in the opening half by a Springboks side that has made that area of its game one of its major weapons.
Springbok flanker Jaco Kriel was the chief destroyer in tight, finishing with 15 tackles for the night in an immense peformance.
The heat turned up in the 18th minute when Tatafu Polota-Nau was removed for a concussion test, throwing rookie Jordan Uelese into the fray with 60 minutes left to play, though that first stint only lasted 10 minutes.
Kurtley Beale continued his inspired run of form since returning to Australia highlighted by a spectacular individual try in the 28th minute, slipping through South Africa’s defence to level things up.
The Wallabies’ patience was tested after the break, with two cracks at the line in multi-phase play, before crowd favourite Polota-Nau scored off a rampaging rolling maul.
A desperate Michael Hooper chase was all that stopped South African centre Jan Serfontein from narrowing the gap.
The Springboks managed to whittle down the margin anyway, with a penalty and a try in 13 minutes squaring up the scores, before a scrambling Israel Folau brought down flanker Kriel just metres short of the line.
A scrum penalty, almost under the posts, left the Wallabies three points behind with 14 minutes left, but it took just three for Foley to slot an equaliser, with 10 minutes left.
The Springboks held the ball as the siren sounded but more desperate Australian defence forced an error.
One final chance for the Wallabies gave them a breath of hope, but an 80m distance proved to be simply too far a bridge to go, leaving the crowd and the players with a strange conclusion to a week that proved it had one last surprise turn left in it.
Tries: Beale, Polota-Nau
Cons: Foley 2
Pens: Foley 3
South Africa 23
Tries: Jesse Kriel, Marx
Cons: Jantjies 2
Pens: Jantjies 3