Well done boys!! True world champions!!
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New Zealand 28-30 South Africa
South Africa broke their 10-year drought on New Zealand’s soil, and recorded their first-ever Test win in Dunedin, thanks to a brilliant opportunist try by Ricky Januarie four minutes from time to remind New Zealand that they are world champions not just in name, but also in deed.
The Springbok scrum-half’s try clinched a match which was as bitterly contested off the field as it was on it following a media slanging match in the week preceding it with allegations of cheating at the scrum, All Black favouritism by referees, and racism, thrown into the mix.
A match which ebbed and flowed appeared to be going New Zealand’s way due to the superior tactical generalship of Dan Carter until, with the All Blacks leading 28-23 going into the final knockings, Januarie broke sharply on the blind side of a ruck and raced between Neemia Tialata and Sione Luaki before chip-kicking over Leon MacDonald and collecting on the bounce to level the score at 28-28.
It was left to Francois Steyn, a second-half replacement, to settle the account in the Springboks' favour by kicking the conversion, and the youngster kept his nerve.
Although New Zealand counter-attacked ferociously for the remainder of the game, setting up two drop-goal opportunities for Carter, he pushed the first one wide and, in the last play of the match, the second effort was charged down and Steyn latched on it to stampede down the field as time ran out for the All Blacks.
Their failure to kick drop-goals when the pressure is on will be beginning to gnaw at them.
South Africa also had to recover from the blow of losing their captain and chief lineout provider, Victor Matfield, when he was yellow-carded eight minutes from time for a marginal high tackle on Luaki with Carter - whose goal-kicking was immaculate - punishing the indiscretion to set up the final drama.
Neither side were helped by the often pedantic Australian referee, Matt Goddard, and it is difficult to understand why the IRB decided to make an exception by allowing the coaches of the two sides to discuss legal niceties with him before the match.
However, there is also no question that South Africa, who outscored the All Blacks by two tries to one, came within a slither of losing a match which they should have won conclusively following the departure of All Black lock Ali Williams to the touchline after a collision with the formidable Schalk Burger had left him dazed and hobbling just before the half-hour.
The upshot was that New Zealand were left to field one of the most inexperienced lock combinations in their history when Kevin O’Neill, making his debut, joined Anthony Boric, who was winning his second cap.
At that stage New Zealand were leading 12-9, with Carter kicking four out of four penalties to Percy Montgomery’s three from three, however the South Africans were already much improved on their set-piece performance a week ago in Wellington.
Not only was Matfield claiming plenty of ball at the lineout, but the South African scrum was far more solid in all respects, and soon after Williams had departed they squandered the first serious opportunity of the match after Januarie, Juan Smith and Butch James had given Jean de Villiers and Adrian Jacobs room to threaten on the outside.
When Jacobs was bundled into touch deep in the New Zealand 22 their lineout was under pressure, and with O’Neill missing Andrew Hore’s throw, Adam Thomson was forced to touch down in goal, conceding a five-metre scrum.
South Africa took full advantage of the new scrum ELV, which requires the defensive line to be five metres back from the hindmost foot, and Springbok No 8 Joe van Niekerk was quick off the mark from the pick-up, getting the angle on Rodney So’ialo before putting JP Pietersen over in the right-hand corner for the opening try of the match and a Springbok lead for the first time at 14-12 despite Montgomery’s failure to convert.
Soon afterwards Carter was well wide with a drop-goal attempt, but, four minutes from the interval, James gave him a textbook example when he hit a 30m drop-goal to put South Africa 17-12 ahead from a Matfield lineout catch. Montgomery had an opportunity to extend the lead with a penalty two minutes from the break but missed, and, when a strong run by Mils Muliaina took the All Blacks into South African territory Carter kicked his fifth penalty to narrow the half-time gap to 17-15 after Jacobs had been penalised for a body-check.
At the start of the second half it was clear that New Zealand had twigged that their best chance of winning the match was to keep it fast and loose, and to use their superior counterattacking skills to overhaul South Africa.
They piled on the pressure, but nearly caught a cold when a multi-phase attack saw Carter clattered and the ball break to Bryan Habana on the edge of the Springbok 22, however Montgomery’s kick simply gave the ball back to New Zealand rather than exploiting the opportunity to the full. South Africa’s failure to bring Habana into the game more was a weakness considering the danger he poses every time he is given space.
At this stage the Springboks seemed tactically adrift, and the habit of kicking the ball away to New Zealand became almost endemic - and it is a particularly dangerous ploy when there is a player of Carter’s calibre in the opposition ranks. He nearly unstitched the South African defence with a clever cross-kick for Rudi Wulf on the left touchline with Pietersen struggling to get back.
The All Blacks coach, Graham Henry, then made an inspired substitution by introducing Luaki for Jerome Kaino, because the powerful No 8 had only been on the field for a minute when he scored the try that put the All Blacks back in control. However, the architect of the try was Conrad Smith, who is fast earning the reputation as the most incisive outside-centre in the game.
After approach work by So’ialo and Andy Ellis, Smith slipped under James tackle, allowing Ellis to put Luaki in the clear to score by the posts, Carter converting for a 22-17 lead.
Springbok woes were compounded when Montgomery missed a straightforward penalty on the hour before being replaced by Conrad Jantjes. This meant that the goal-kicking mantle was passed to James, and he narrowed the gap to 22-20 soon afterwards.
However, the quick-thinking Carter nudged New Zealand out again to 25-20 with an exceptional low trajectory drop-kick on the swivel after a sharp counterattack through Wulf.
The nip-and-tuck continued when James put the Springboks within striking distance again with a penalty in the 67th minute, whittling the gap to 25-23, and setting up the late firework display which saw Januarie emerge as the Springbok hero.