Cullen opens the Boks

South Africa 18 New Zealand 29
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The Independent Online
Glen Osborne must have spent the past few months wondering if his international career had come to an abrupt end, but yesterday the utility back produced a stunning try to give New Zealand a Tri-Nations clean sweep and rekindle his own All Black ambitions.

Osborne, full-back in the All Black side that reached the World Cup final last June, has spent all of this international season parked on the replacements' bench as Christian Cullen took over the No 15 shirt. But a last-minute call to stand in for the injured Jonah Lomu on the left wing gave Osborne the opportunity to remind the All Black selectors of his abilities. Unfortu- nately for Osborne, he is at his most useful for New Zealand on the bench, covering for the All Blacks' most potent attacking force of the modern era, the back three of Lomu, Cullen and the speedster Jeff Wilson.

For long periods yesterday it looked as if Osborne, and the rest of the New Zealand side, had missed their cue. But in the 70th minute Osborne was on the end of a sweeping New Zealand move to turn the game. Inevitably it was Cullen who set up the chance with an electrifying burst down the left side, cutting through a hole in the Springboks' stretched defence. Osbor- ne's move back inside allowed him to touch down close to the posts to give Andrew Mehrtens the formality of a conversion that edged New Zealand 19-18 clear.

From that moment you sensed there was no way back for South Africa. Seventeen minutes earlier they had lost their captain, Francois Pienaar, taken off with what appeared to be a serious head injury. Without Pienaar's leadership the Springboks were never likely to force a win. New Zealand, typically, went for the throat, and when the prop Craig Dowd hammered his way over for another try, the capacity crowd at Newlands were finally silenced.

Mehrtens, as he had done to Australia in Brisbane two weeks before, added the conversion to secure the game, then slotted an injury-time penalty to underline the All Blacks' superiority.

And yet for South Africa all had started so well. A third-minute Joel Stransky penalty goal gave them the early initiative. Mehrtens levelled five minutes later but South Africa were on a roll. In the 12th minute Japie Mulder burst down the left flank, Mark Andrews carried the ball forward and, when he was stopped just short, Stransky spun the ball wide for Mulder to score under the posts.

South Africa were not finished there. In the 26th minute the burly prop Os du Randt battered his way over to push South Africa 15-3 ahead. A Mehrtens penalty goal reduced the gap just before the break, but another Stransky penalty goal gave South Africa an 18-6 advantage early in the second half. But with Pienaar off the field New Zealand seized their chance.

New Zealand now go into a three-match Test series against the Springboks in South Africa. Lomu's imminent return will only boost their understandable confidence, but for the luckless Osborne he will most likely be cheering from the sidelines.

SOUTH AFRICA: J Small (Natal); J Swart (Western Province), H le Roux (Transvaal), J Mulder (Transvaal), P Hendriks (Transvaal); J Stransky (Western Province), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); M Hurter (Northern Transvaal), J Allan (Natal), O du Randt (OFS), S Atherton (Natal), M Andrews (Natal), G Teichmann (Natal), F Pienaar (Transvaal), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal). Replacements: H Strydom (Transvaal) for Pienaar 53, D Theron (Griqualand West) for du Randt 77.

NEW ZEALAND: C Cullen (Manawatu); G Osborne (North Harbour), W Little (North Harbour), F Bunce (North Harbour), J Wilson (Otago); A Mehrtens (Canterbury), J Marshall (Canterbury); C Dowd (Auckland), S Fitzpatrick (Auckland), O Brown (Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), R Brooke (Auckland)), J Kronfeld (Otago), Z Brooke (Auckland), M Jones (Auckland). Replacements: A Ieremia (Wellington) for Little 42, A Blowers (Auckland) for Kronfeld 66.

Referee: D McHugh (Ireland).