This was a throbbing, compelling Tri-Nations match of huge physicality, which featured a fantastic winning try right at the end and saw an 87-year-old bogy laid to rest. There was not much missing from this terrific Test match, which was played on a fine, mild evening in Dunedin.
The speed and intensity of the game was tremendous, a significant step up from any international rugby played this year in the northern hemisphere. Such was the ebb and flow of the game that both sides harboured visions of a great victory right up to the final minutes, when the All Blacks' fly-half, Dan Carter, missed two drop-goal attempts, either of which would have dragged his young, patched-up New Zealand side over the finishing line.
The Springboks had not won at Carisbrook since 1921 and they had gone 10 years without a victory on New Zealand soil. Unrecognisable from the limp, dispirited outfit who hardly showed up in Wellington for the Tri-Nations opener seven days earlier, this was a wholly committed and determined South African side, bent on ramming their critics' words down their throats. It was what you might call a complete transformation from a team whose country has been so obsessed with the whole concept of transformation.
When Carter kicked the All Blacks into a 28-23 lead with just seven minutes remaining and the Springbok captain, Victor Matfield, in the sin-bin for the rest of the game, it looked all over. But the visitors' scrum-half, Ricky Januarie, a little rubber ball of a half-back and a feisty, fizzing type of player, had played a superb game, with some brave defence and lively work going forward. Now, 35 metres from the All Blacks' line, he seized possession at the breakdown, let the home defence fatally drift sideways to cover the expected pass and then knifed straight through.
Januarie still had to beat the home side's replacement full-back, Leon MacDonald, but he did so with an audacious chip and he gleefully collected a nice bounce to dive over. Francois Steyn kicked the conversion and when Carter's second late drop-goal attempt failed, Peter de Villiers' Springboks were into the history books.
It was a game that had a capacity crowd on the edge of their seats. The All Blacks' coach, Graham Henry, not a man given to handing out plaudits, called it "a fabulous game of rugby". He was right. Henry congratulated the South Africans, but added: "I am deeply proud of our guys. They showed huge attitude and played the best half of rugby this year after half-time. Unfortunately we didn't quite clinch it, but these guys will have grown from this experience."
New Zealand, who were already hugely weakened by the absence of their injured captain, the open-side flanker Richie McCaw, and the loss of a number of experienced players to European clubs, then saw the one player they could least affordto lose on the night, the experienced lock Ali Williams, limp off after 28 minutes.
That meant that Anthony Boric and Williams' replacement, Kevin O'Neill, could offer a total of two previous caps, both belonging to Boric, against the South Africans' vastly experienced second row. Matfield and Bakkies Botha, the world's top locking combination, are the combined owners of 123 caps.
Carter kicked the young New Zealanders into an early lead before Percy Montgomery replied. A try on the half-hour from the wing JP Pietersen, following a pick-up off the base of a five-metre scrum by the No 8, Joe van Niekerk, edged South Africa ahead. Butch James dropped a goal before Carter kicked two more penalties to trim South Africa's lead to 17-15.
The All Blacks, although still not as fast in getting numbers to the breakdown and constantly surprised by the huge improvement in the Springboks' scrum from the previous week, scored a try after 55 minutes. Conrad Smith and Andy Ellis cleverly made it for the substitute back-rower Sione Lauaki and Carter converted to make it 22-17.
Two James penalties hauled the South Africans back into it but Matfield's trip to the sin-bin, for a high tackle, and a sixth penalty and a drop goal from Carter seemed to have given New Zealand just enough of an advantage to hold out. Januarie's retort, however, was superb.
De Villiers said: "I always believed in the players and they put it together today and showed great belief in themselves. They knew they had to up their game and they did that. I was a bit worried when we went down to 14 men but the guys stuck to their guns for a great win. The difference with last week was that we had the ball on the front foot most of the time here."
The All Blacks threw everything into a desperate late bid to snatch victory, the centre Ma'a Nonu making a searing break into the 22. South Africa were hanging on, but they had just enough left in the tank and were able to hold out.
New Zealand: M Muliaina (Waikato); S Sivivatu (Waikato), C Smith (Wellington), M Nonu (Wellington), R Wulf (North Harbour); D Carter (Canterbury), A Ellis (Canterbury); A Woodcock (North Harbour), A Hore (Taranaki), J Afoa (Auckland), A Boric (Auckland), A Williams (Tasman), A Thomson (Otago), R So'oialo (Wellington, capt), J Kaino (Auckland). Replacements: K O'Neill (Canterbury) for Williams, 28; L Macdonald (Canterbury) for Sivivatu, 40; S Lauaki (Waikato) for Kaino, 53; K Mealamu (Auckland) for Hore, 56; N Tialata (Wellington) for Afoa, 70
South Africa: P Montgomery (Perpignan); JP Pietersen (Natal), A Jacobs (Natal), J de Villiers (Western Province), B Habana (Blue Bulls); B James (Bath), R Januarie (Western Province); G Steenkamp (Blue Bulls), B du Plessis (Natal), CJ van der Linde (Cheetahs), B Botha (Blue Bulls), V Matfield (Blue Bulls, capt), S Burger (Western Province), J Smith (Cheetahs), J van Niekerk (Lions). Replacements: F Steyn (Natal) for Jacobs,47; A Bekker (Western Province) for Botha, 49-61; B Mujati (Western Province) for Steenkamp, 53-60; C Jantjes (Western Province) for Montgomery, 61; L Watson (Western Province) for Van Niekerk, 61; S Brits (Western Province) for du Plessis, 74; R Pienaar (Natal) for James, 74.
Referee: M Goddard (Australia).