The Wallabies went into the halftime break with a 10-3 lead following a converted try and a penalty goal, while South Africa replied with a single penalty goal despite their dominance in the set piece, territory and the penalty count in their favour.
A string of basic errors in the first half meant the Springboks could never get into their stride, while the Wallabies made a perfect, fast start to the game which set the tone for their first-half performance; 40 minutes of rugby the Springboks would rather forget.
After conceding a converted try in the opening two minutes and then a penalty goal soon afterwards, the visitors found themselves 10-0 behind with hardly a hand laid on the ball during that period.
From a Springbok mistake with the kick-off, Australia beautifully took the ball through a couple of phases and flanker Fraser McReight rounded off a quick start with a converted try next to the posts. Moments later, when flyhalf Noah Lolesio slotted a close ranged penalty goal following a South African high tackle, the Wallabies were 10-0 up within five minutes.
Hooker Joseph Dweba left the field in the 11th minute with a cut above the eye, and Malcolm Marx came on while the starting hooker received stiches for his head wound. Handre Pollard, who slotted 10 consecutive kicks in his previous two matches, steered his first penalty attempt wide of the upright.
When the Boks finally got some passes going and ventured into the Wallaby danger zone, they committed several handling errors which relieved the pressure on the Australians.
Pollard pulled another penalty kick when the Wallabies were penalised at scrum time, but he had no problem with his third attempt a few minutes later to finally put the Boks on the scoreboard at 10-3.
With the Boks now getting good go-forward ball, Wallaby right wing Tom Wright was yellow carded for going offside when SA took a quick tap penalty five meters from his goal line, but again the visitors failed to capitalise as they conceded a penalty from an attacking scrum.
The men in Green and Gold were now in control at the set piece and they generated a lot of scoring opportunities, but frustratingly, they were unable to convert those because of numerous errors, but the hosts also defended well, as was the case when wing Makazole Mapimpi was stopped in his tracks with the try line in sight by a desperate Marika Koroibete tackle.
To make matters worse for the Boks, scrumhalf Faf de Klerk was yellow carded for foul play on opposite number Nic White just before the break, and the Wallabies took advantage of that with an extra man on the field early in the second half.
After the break, Koroibete scored the Wallabies’ second try of the match when he showed good footwork to step Pollard and dive over. Lolesio hit the upright with his conversion, but the Wallabies had stretched their lead to 15-3 just seven minutes after the break.
Springbok Jacques Nienaber sent on Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert, Frans Steyn, Jaden Hendrikse and Elton Jantjies as replacements in the second half in an effort to lift the tempo.
But it was the Wallabies who kept the scorers busy when McReight ran in for his second try of the game. The flanker was on hand to take a pass from his flyhalf after a clever inside pass to score next to the sticks and with Lolesio adding the extras, the Boks were left with a mountain to climb at 22-3 and only 20 minutes of play remaining.
Jantjies was then unfortunately pinned on the wrong side of a ruck after having made a tackle, and Lolesio hit the mark with his second penalty goal attempt as he took the Wallabies’ advantage to 25-3.
The Boks looked for a strong finish and finally scored their first try, initiated by Kitshoff and fellow front-ranker Koch, who sent replacement No 8 Smith over for a try converted by Jantjies.
The South Africans kept on going and when Wallaby No 8 Rob Valetini was yellow carded for a cynical foul towards the end, Smith took a quick tap penalty to dive over for his second try of the game, which Jaden Hendrikse converted.
However the fightback came too late as the Wallabies left the pitch as 25-17 winners, and South Africa now must go back to the drawing board for next week’s rematch in Sydney.
Australia 25 (10) – Tries: Fraser McReight (2), Marika Koroibete. Conversions: Noah Lolesio (2). Penalty goals: Lolesio (2).
Springboks 17 (3) – Tries: Kwagga Smith (2). Conversions: Elton Jantjies, Jaden Hendrikse. Penalty goal: Handre Pollard.