Tri-Nations: Mealamu snatches a classic victory

New Zealand 31 South Africa 27
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The Independent Online

But simple deductions hide the story of a pulsating Test. No one in Dunedin was left in the slightest doubt that the pace, physical intensity and skill on display emphasised the work Ireland, Wales and England must do to come anywhere near these two sides. New Zealand's coach, Graham Henry, called it "a great Test match, a marvellous game right at the top end of international rugby".

Twelve months ago in Christchurch, the All Blacks scored as the final hooter sounded. This time, their hooker Keven Mealamu, by some margin the man of the match, detached from a maul near the Springbok line to burrow over for the winning score with four minutes left.

New Zealand established a 21-10 lead in 27 minutes after calamitous defensive errors by South Africa. Joe Rokocoko swept in for the first try, brushing aside Percy Montgomery's challenge after Andre Pretorius's kick had been charged down. Montgomery then dropped a high kick and Mealamu took it on to send Leon MacDonald over.

When Rokocoko grabbed a third, smashing through Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield and Juan Smith, the Springboks were staring down the barrel. The All Blacks were more dynamic, especially around the fringes, where the scrum-half Piri Weepu had a fine game.

But the Springboks fought their way back with such fierce determination that they snatched the lead with 15 minutes left. Bryan Habana had picked up a loose ball to scoot over for his 13th try in 12 Tests, and the scrum-half Ricky Januarie charged down MacDonald's kick for a try to make it 21-17 at the break.

Jaco van der Westhuyzen replaced Pretorius and began to push New Zealand back. Montgomery missed two penalties, but a 50th-minute kick trimmed the New Zealand lead to a point. MacDonald stretched that to four with a penalty. Then Januarie burgled a pass by Jerry Collins - who was later cited for punching - and sent the centre Jaque Fourie under the posts, Montgomery's conversion making it 27-24 to the Springboks.

South Africa did not deserve victory, as the New Zealanders had a smarter gameplan. Yet the Boks very nearly tore the match from the All Blacks' grasp.

New Zealand: M Muliaina; R Gear, T Umaga (capt), A Mauger, J Rokocoko; L MacDonald (L McAlister, 70), P Weepu; T Woodcock, K Mealamu, C Hayman (G Somerville, 68), C Jack (J Ryan, 68), A Williams, J Collins, R McCaw, R So'oialo.

South Africa: P Montgomery; J de Villiers, J Fourie, DW Barry, B Habana; A Pretorius (J van der Westhuyzen, 36), R Januarie; O du Randt (E Andrews, 71-75), J Smit (capt), C J van der Linde, B Botha, V Matfield, S Burger (J Cronje, 36-45), J Smith, J van Niekerk.

Referee: J Jutge (France).

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