South Africa won in Dunedin for the first time in 87 years and in New Zealand for the first time in a decade on Saturday, but their victory came at a cost. Bismarck du Plessis, the hooker who was filling in for the Springboks' injured captain, John Smit, was cited for making contact with the eyes of the All Black flanker Adam Thomson. Though cleared of gouging at yesterday's hearing, he was found guilty of careless conduct and banned for three weeks.
Smit, who injured his groin in an off-the-ball tackle from the New Zealand lock Brad Thorn in the first meeting between the two teams in Wellington a week before, will miss the rest of the Tri-Nations tournament. Western Province's Schalk Britz, who replaced Du Plessis late in Saturday's game, is thus in line to start Saturday's match against Australia in Perth, the only Tri-Nations fixture Du Plessis will miss.
On Saturday, all the statistics were in New Zealand's favour. They had 66 per cent of territory and 60 per cent of possession and South Africa had to make 205 tackles to 89. So how did the home team lose the game? Their fly-half, Dan Carter, said: "It could have gone either way but they pulled out a remarkable try. The lesson for us is that when we get ahead we have got to nail it. But we kept letting them back into the game with silly penalties."
New Zealand were reminded of the priceless value of experience. After Ali Williams had been forced from the field by injury early on the All Black locks, Anthony Boric and Kevin O'Neill, could muster two previous caps together. They faced a pairing – South Africa's stand-in captain, Victor Matfield, and Bakkies Botha – with 123. Matfield, back after a spell with Toulon, was a colossus. He ruled the line-outs, foraged hard in the loose, tidied up, urged, cajoled and inspired.
Behind him, there was further evidence of the flowering of a true international talent in Ricky Januarie. The scrum-half's match-winning try was audacious, featuring a clever, calculating piece of play that ruptured the New Zealand defence. But he did a whole lot more than that, busying himself everywhere.
Essentially, the Springboks won the game in defence and none did more there than Schalk Burger and Gurthro Steenkamp. The flanker and the prop were immense, tackling with a relish that overcame physical discomfort and exhaustion.
Yet the Springboks, the world champions, still only got home by two points and were simply hanging on by the end. Had one of two late drop-goal attempts by Carter succeeded, New Zealand would have prevailed.
The devil was in the detail. The way to beat the Springboks is to go round them, not through. There was too little innovation by the All Blacks, too much formulaic play from a normally inventive back line. Perhaps there was some consolation for Graham Henry, the beaten coach, in the fact that this is an All Black team in the making. It was remarkable, really, that they got as close as they did to their hugely experienced opponents, given the contrast of their 355 caps against the visitors' 606.
South Africa led 17-15 at half time, JP Pietersen's try and their goal-kicking nudging them ahead. Carter had landed five penalties to keep New Zealand in touch.
The impact of the Tongan-born back-rower Sione Lauaki as a second-half replacement was underlined by his 55th-minute try, cleverly fashioned by Conrad Smith and Andy Ellis. It pushed the All Blacks out to 22-17 and Carter's sixth penalty, which made it 28-23 on 74 minutes after a head-high tackle for which Matfield was sent to the sin-bin, seemed decisive.
But Januarie, a little rubber ball of a scrum half, sliced open the New Zealand defence for the crucial try. Francois Steyn's conversion edged South Africa to a victory that gave them a potentially crucial advantage in what could be a closely-fought Tri-Nations.
* Leicester have signed the Blue Bulls fly-half Derick Hougaard as a replacement for Andy Goode, who signed for Brive last week. Hougaard, 25, has won eight caps for South Africa.
New Zealand: Try Lauaki; Conversion Carter; Penalties Carter 6; Drop goal Carter. South Africa: Tries Pietersen, Januarie: Conversion Steyn; Penalties Montgomery 3, James 2; Drop goal James.
New Zealand: M Muliaina; S Sivivatu (L Macdonald, 40), C Smith, M Nonu, R Wulf; D Carter, A Ellis; T Woodcock, A Hore (K Mealamu, 56), J Afoa (N Tialata, 70), A Boric, A Williams (K O'Neill, 28), A Thompson, R So'oialo (capt), J Kaino (S Lauaki, 53).
South Africa: P Montgomery (C Jantjes, 61); JP Pietersen, A Jacobs (F Steyn, 47), J de Villiers, B Habana; B James (R Pienaar, 74), R Januarie; G Steenkamp (B Mujati, 53-60), B du Plessis (S Brits, 74), CJ van der Linde, B Botha (A Bekker, 49-61), V Matfield (capt), S Burger, J Smith, J van Niekerk (L Watson, 61).
Referee: M Goddard (Australia).Reuse content