McCaw and Dagg arrive late to spoil Smit's party

South Africa 22 New Zealand 29
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The Independent Online

If this was a preview of next year's World Cup final, then bring it on.

A game of enormous physicality, immense commitment and relentless pace was decided in the final moments when the All Blacks captain Richie McCaw squeezed into the right hand corner and the substitute Israel Dagg scored almost straight from the restart with only seconds left.

McCaw's foot was close to going into touch but the decision went his way. Dan Carter could not convert the first but did the second after Ma'a Nonu had broken away downfield. Those two late scores broke South African hearts, but for New Zealand, it meant the Tri-Nations title. The Springbok captain John Smit had celebrated his 100th cap with a not straight throw from his first line-out and being penalised at the second for delaying the throw. But thankfully for him and his coach, Peter de Villiers, South Africa had other men able to rise to the challenge. Schalk Burger, pictured, was everywhere in pursuit of the ball and the man, assisted by Juan Smith.

After Morne Steyn and Carter exchanged a brace of penalties, South Africa scored the first try when Burger smashed through Nonu and Keven Mealamu to score. Steyn's kicking pushed the lead out to 16-9 before Tony Woodcock was worked over down the right.

It was 16-14 at half time and that set up the pulsating final 40 minutes. Steyn's fifth penalty goal made it 19-14 yet even at altitude it was the South Africans who ran out of puff in the final 10 minutes. Carter made it 19-17 and missed the chance of another penalty before the late try burst settled it. Overall, the All Blacks were less impressive when faced with so aggressive and physical a defence, yet their finish was exemplary.

South Africa: Aplon; Pietersen, De Jongh, De Villiers, Habana; Steyn, Hougaard (Januarie, 75); Steenkamp, Smit (capt), Du Plessis (Van der Linde, 62), Van der Merwe (Rossouw, 69), Matfield, Burger, Smith (Louw, 58), Spies.

New Zealand: Muliaina; Jane, Smith, Nonu, Rokocoko (Dagg, 57); Carter, Cowan (Weepu, 42); Woodcock, Mealamu, Franks (Afoa, 62), Thorn, Donnelly (Whitelock, 49), Kaino (Vito, 69), McCaw (Capt), K. Read.

Referee: N. Owens (Wales).