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AUSTRALIA is set to open the tournament with a thrilling first round win over South Africa at the ANZ Stadium, with the two teams locked in a tight battle for a top-two finish.

In a thriller, it was South Africa who took the lead early on, but Australia responded well in the second half to make it 2-0 in the final quarter hour before the hosts pulled one back.

The result was a crucial blow for the hosts, who had already qualified for the last 16 and finished second in the group.

In the final game of the tournament, Australia took the advantage from a late scrum penalty when the ball broke loose in the scrum and prop Luke Brooks converted a penalty to give the hosts a four-point lead with three minutes to play.

The win over the Springboks is a huge boost for the players ahead of next week’s first-round clash in Wellington, and while it doesn’t change the overall result, it does provide a boost for Australia’s World Cup hopes.

South Africa have had their ups and downs during the World Cup so far, but they were a side that seemed set to be the heavy favourites to win the tournament last year.

They beat Argentina in the semi-finals and took on Australia in the quarter-finals.

South Africa are the only team to have ever qualified for a World Cup finals and are unbeaten in the tournament.

They will be looking to bounce back in Wellington after their World Cup exit in 2018 and are aiming for a sixth straight win.

“It’s been a difficult year for us, but the team has come together,” South Africa coach Zane Kirchner said.

“We have had some great players and I believe we will be stronger in the World Series than at the moment.”

This is our World Cup team, and we can’t afford to lose.

“South Africa were a team that seemed poised to take the World Championship by storm in 2018, with captain Sefa Naivalu scoring three tries and the likes of Sefiane Nadolo, Tania Fofana, Tiaan Bolis and Tymal Mills leading the charge.”

South African scrum half Leila Morais made her first appearance of the series and her first try of the game was a trademark finish, kicking a ball from the back of the line.”

We were very unlucky that we had a turnover, but we made some great plays and we got the win.”

South African scrum half Leila Morais made her first appearance of the series and her first try of the game was a trademark finish, kicking a ball from the back of the line.

She also missed the conversion.

After being beaten in the opening game of their World Series, South Africa will be expecting another good showing in Wellington.