Australia's road to the World Cup has become slightly bumpier after a 35-17 loss to South Africa in Johannesburg.

Australia have just four more games to show they can be a force during the World Cup but fell short of the Springboks, continuing a disastrous record in South Africa.

The side's last victory in South Africa was in 2011 while the Ellis Park hoodoo will now stretch on beyond the 56 years with Australia's last win at the ground coming in 1963 — their only win at the ground.

Worse for Australia, the South African side were largely a second-string side with six of the Springboks line up considered first choice players.

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The key moment of the game was the second half yellow card and sin bin for Taniela Tupou with the Springboks punishing Australia with two tries with the man advantage.

Leading 14-10, the referee and video referee saw it as a shoulder charge from the Aussies but the commentators blew up.

The video ref said "That's clearly a shoulder charge into the chest" but Channel 10 commentator and former Wallaby Matt Burke blew up, exclaiming "no it's not".

Australia's Harry Johnson-Holmes, right, is tackled by South Africa's Pieter-Steph du Toit during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Australia at Ellis Park. Photo / AP
Australia's Harry Johnson-Holmes, right, is tackled by South Africa's Pieter-Steph du Toit during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Australia at Ellis Park. Photo / AP

He then explained it wasn't a shoulder charge because Tupou used his hands, saying " You've got to use your shoulder when you clean-out".

Gordon Bray replied: "Somehow Australia has got to survive this catastrophic situation. Naisarani has to go for the arrival of Kepu but Australia looking winded upfront. They will need all their courage and guile to withstand the Springboks scrum."

Australia couldn't survive a man down however with the Springboks spreading it wide for S'busiso Nkosi to score in the corner.

South Africa then hit back again with halfback Herschel Jantjies scoring his second on the match, running down the short side to pile on the pain for Australia.

Post match, the sin bin was a big talking point.

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"There was clearly an arm there, I think it was a poor decision from Paul Williams, one of a number throughout the course of the night," Drew Mitchell said on Fox Sports. "That being said, you can't yourself in a position to let the referee make that decision."

Phil Kearns went much further, slamming the standard of refereeing in world rugby.

"I think it was a disgraceful decision," Kearns said. "I think so many times we put referees that are out of their depth into these games. We've all talked privately about the World Cup referees and there are a whole bunch of guys that are totally out of their depth. That is a game changing moment and some of these guys are out of their depth."

South Africa took the game to Australia early and opened up a 14-3 lead before the Wallabies struck back.

The Wallabies couldn't be denied for long though with winger Dane Haylett-Petty scored in the corner to cut the lead to 14-10 at the break.

But it could have been so much better for Australia with two bombed tries leaving the side ruing its missed opportunities at the break.

After South African halfback Herschel Jantjies scored his first try on international debut, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto looked to have streaked away for Australia's first try of the night but it was overturned on review, much to the praise of the vocal home crowd.

Samu Kerevi cut through the line and found Salakaia-Loto just late with the pass ruled forward, denying the flanker his first try for the Wallabies.

Following Haylett-Petty's try, the Aussie winger butchered a certain try, unable to pick the ball up and knocking on with no opposing players within five metres.

"I don't think he realised he didn't have too many players around him, sit up, sit up, it would not sit up for Dane Haylett-Petty," Tim Horan said on Fox Sports commentary. "Try bombed."

"Oh dear, it's such a crucial moment in the game, a couple of minutes before halftime," Rod Kafer agreed.

Burke said it was a "coach killer".

But despite the loss, it's not all bad news for Australia with some Wallabies legends praising the performance, particularly in the first half.

At halftime, Fox Sports commentator Phil Kearns said there was a definite shift in style for the side.

Australia's Samu Kerevi, front, is tackled by South Africa's Marvin Orie during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Australia at Ellis Park. Photo / AP
Australia's Samu Kerevi, front, is tackled by South Africa's Marvin Orie during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Australia at Ellis Park. Photo / AP

"I was impressed by the speed they played at," Kearns said. "You could see a different style they were trying, it wasn't as programmed as we've seen in the past. It's clear that some of these guys haven't played together, the combinations just aren't there but we've bombed two opportunities, absolutely slaughtered them."

Drew Mitchell said it was an "absolute gimme" admitting "we were fist bumping in the green room".

With a four point deficit at the break, the hopes were high in the Wallabies camp the side would fight back for their first win in South Africa in eight years.

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper said South Africa controlled the second half to run away with the game.

"I thought our attack in the first half was real class, we showed a lot of different pictures," Hooper said. "We've ended up being doubled in point. There's a lot to look at, a lot that we did we but certainly a lot of improvement to be made."

Kearns said it was a tough loss but there were plenty of positives.

"I'm not disappointed by it," Kearns said. "I thought there were some disappointing decisions if I could be as diplomatic as I possibly could be, particularly that Taniela Tupou decision from the referee. However, I'm not too disappointed by the Wallaby performance."

Drew Mitchell agreed there are definite positives from the game.

"There are a lot of things to be frustrated about because there were so many opportunities created by the Wallabies," Mitchell said. "There is something to hang on to going into next week. They were able to create some opportunities but there were quite a few things to be frustrated about."



South Africa selected flanker Rynhardt Elstadt and halfback Herschel Jantjies to make their debuts in the Rugby Championship test against Australia on Sunday as a group of first-choice players travelled ahead to prepare for the away game against New Zealand.

Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus split his squad into two groups, hoping to prepare better for the world champion All Blacks and manage fatigue ahead of the Rugby World Cup in September.

In the absence of injured captain Siya Kolisi, lock Eben Etzebeth was named to lead South Africa against the Wallabies at Ellis Park.

South Africa's team has players needing game time after injury and others on the fringes of the World Cup squad. Etzebeth and lock partner Lood de Jager are returning from injuries. Elton Jantjies starts at first-five in place of first choice Handre Pollard.

Ireland-based loose forward Marcel Coetzee is on the bench and in line to play his first test since 2015. Utility back Frans Steyn is also among the reserves, as is uncapped prop Lizo Gqoboka.

South Africa have six players in the 23 for the Australia game who play overseas, indicating Erasmus will cast his net wide in an effort to find the right combinations for the World Cup in Japan. They are Elstadt, No 8 Francois Louw, and reserves Vincent Koch, Cobus Reinach, Coetzee and Steyn.

Australia's preparations have been upset with three players returning home with injuries and winger Marika Koroibete released for family reasons.

James O'Connor could return to Australia's test team after a six-year absence. The utility back's international career was stalled by a series of off-field disciplinary issues but he's returned to Australia after spells in Britain and France and is with the Wallabies squad in South Africa.

-AP