New Zealand 29 South Africa 32
South Africa are the new Tri-Nations champions after withstanding a late fight-back from New Zealand to claim a hard-fought 32-29 win.
Heading into the match John Smit and his men needed a bonus point at worst to secure the title for the third time but in the end the boots of Francois Steyn and his namesake Morne and tries to Fourie du Preez, Jean de Villiers and some superb defence ensured they took the win, and with it the silverware.
The match at a sold-out Waikato Stadium never really hit the heights of All Blacks-Springboks clashes of old due to its stop-start nature, the high error count and the wealth of kicking but it mattered not to the visitors.
They were 22-12 up by half-time thanks to a lone try by Du Preez, three long-range penalties from full-back Francois Steyn and a penalty, conversion and drop goal from their fly-half. In reply Daniel Carter kicked four penalties for New Zealand.
The second half was a totally different matter as the All Blacks threw everything they had at the world champions.
The Springboks struck first with De Villiers pouncing on an errant pass from Carter to streak in under the posts but that only succeeded in firing up the All Blacks who finally got a five-pointer on the board through wing Sitiveni Sivivatu.
Another Carter penalty set up a tense final 15 minutes as the All Blacks looked to attack with ball in hand but they could not make the passes stick as South Africa swarmed on defence.
With only a couple of minutes on the clock, the All Blacks finally broke the green line with Richie McCaw collecting a pinpoint cross-field kick from Carter to dot down in the corner.
Carter quickly converted and the race was on for another score, but it proved to be elusive.
Today’s result caps off a disappointing few months for the All Blacks who have struggled for form throughout a season which started with a loss against France back in June and ends in a dead rubber tie with Australia in Wellington next weekend, with the New Zealanders having already retained the Bledisloe Cup for another year.
New Zealand’s line-out was again shaky although Victor Matfield, in his 20th Test against the All Blacks – the most by a Springbok – did not have everything his own way either.
However, they got enough ball and with the sides evenly matched in the scrum and the visitors’ strong kicking game again to the fore, they were able to force the All Blacks into errors and capitalised.
It was the kickers who kept the scoreboard ticking over in the opening quarter with Francois Steyn (from inside his own half) and Carter exchanging penalties and Morne Steyn banging over a drop goal to get the visitors 9-6 up.
The visitors extended their lead with the opening try of the game after Du Preez chased his own huge up and under.
He and Joe Rokocoko rose for the ball with neither able to claim it but the Boks tidied up quickly and Bakkies Botha was stopped just short and from the ruck Du Preez sold a dummy and burrowed his way over. Morne Steyn added the extras.
Another Carter penalty, which took him past 900 Test points, reduced the deficit to 16-9 but it was short-lived as Francois Steyn stepped up to kick over his third penalty from inside his own half.
More All Blacks indiscipline – Kieran Read shoulder-charging Bryan Habana after the whistle had gone – gave Morne Steyn another simple shot at goal which he duly converted.
Carter kicked his fourth penalty of the match just before half-time to leave the score 22-12 in the Springboks’ favour.
The visitors struck first after the break when De Villiers raced in for his intercept.
But the introduction of Isaia Toeava for Stephen Donald paid dividends when the midfielder ran around Schalk Burger, who was a late replacement in the starting line-up for Juan Smith, and beat Odwa Ndungane before offloading to Sivivatu who slid over the line.
Carter’s conversion got the All Blacks back to within 10 points and he and Morne Steyn exchanged further penalties before the All Blacks pivot’s pinpoint kick found McCaw who dotted down to set up a thrilling finale.