A 77th minute penalty by flyhalf Andre Pretorius handed the Springboks a nail-biting 21-20 Vodacom Tri-Nations win over the All Blacks on Saturday.
The Royal Bafokeng Stadium reverberated to the Boks first Test win in six matches, breaking a losing streak that has stretched back two months.
The Boks trailed 20-18 following a Joe Rokocoko try in the 65th minute, which was converted by Dan Carter, but never gave up as they gave the 26,000-plus fans something to cheer about.
The guilty man for the All Blacks was replacement prop Neemia Tialata who dived in from the side of the ruck as the clock ticked down. And Pretorius made no mistake from about 30m on the angle.
The result also snapped a 15-match unbeaten run by the All Blacks, ensuring they fall two short of the world record for most consecutive Test wins. It came on the back of an 11-point haul – three penalties and a conversion – by the Bok No 10. He was also impressive in getting good clean ball to his backs, but of course that was courtesy of the pack doing the hard yards up front.
Both teams scored two tries, with the difference coming from Pretorius’s boot. Apart from Pretorius, the loose-trio deserve special mention. Young Pierre Spies was a colossus in the tight and loose, while AJ Venter showed his days as a Bok are far from numbered. No 8 Pedrie Wannenburg was tireless throughout and was rewarded with a try from a superb team movement.
The victory was based on a massive defensive effort from every player that lasted from first minute to last and saw each and every player put his body on the line for the cause.
Carter was brilliant again, contributing 15 points, but it was not enough as the Boks played with plenty of guts and determination and tackled like their lives depended on it.
The defensive effort in the first 40 minutes from the Boks was immense. The commitment to the breakdown was huge as they matched the All Blacks punch for punch. It was certainly a step up from the insipid display produced at Loftus Versfeld last weekend
The Boks were playing desperate rugby for most of the first 40 minutes, while the All Blacks looked threatening every time they touched the ball. The defence was probably the best it has been throughout a wretched Tri-Nations campaign.
The Boks took the lead via a Pretorius penalty after seven minutes, but that was matched by the imperious Carter three minutes later. The Boks were competing well in the first phases, and even managed to steal the five lineout balls from the visitors – four of those to Victor Matfield.
Matfield was simply outstanding in this respect. And it proved to be a telling statistic as the Boks were able to play with a flair and verve seldom seen in recent months.
But the All Blacks are not the No 1 team in the world for nothing and they continued to pepper the Boks line, which held firm magnificently. Pretorius kicked his second penalty in the 16th minute and the Boks led 6-3.
It didn’t last long as a lapse of concentration allowed the New Zealanders to rumble into the Boks 22 and a good break by Joe Rokocoko eventually led to Carter scoring close in. He added the conversion of his own try and the All Blacks led 10-6.
The Boks lost Os du Randt temporarily, but thankfully it was only a matter of minutes as he had one of his better games this year. And just two minutes after the All Blacks had stolen the lead, mercurial wing Bryan Habana snatched an errant Rodney So’oialo pass to canter in between the poles untouched. Pretorius’s conversion gave the Boks a 13-10 lead.
And they defended that heroically for the next 18 minutes of the half, until Venter – who was having a fine game – infringed at the ruck and Carter made no mistake to head into the interval all square at 13-all.
But it could have been so different. Just three minutes from the break the All Blacks had a try disallowed. Jerry Collins ghosted through the midfield, but was hauled down short of the tryline. Hooker Andrew Hore dived over, but was aided by obstructive running from So’oialo and the TMO ruled a penalty to the Boks.
In the first few minutes of the second half, Pretorius squandered two drop-goal chances, but it helped keep the All Blacks guessing as the Boks started to throw the ball around.
While the first half probably lacked some intensity, the second half saw the game awake from its slumber. And 15 minutes after the restart the Boks scored a wonderful try â€“ one of the best they have managed this year.
First Wynand Olivier made a break, but managed to stay on his feet long enough to suck in two extra defenders. The ball was quickly recycled and Pierre Spies burst through the middle and after Pretorius showed great hands, Pedrie Wannenburg dived over in the corner.
Pretoriusâ€™s kick went wide and the Boks led by five. They only managed to hold on for 10 minutes as the All Blacks started to mount a concerted effort to regain the lead.
And it was that man Carter again who put in a deft kick for Rocokoco to run onto. He added the conversion too and the visitors led 20-18 with 15 minutes to play.
But this Bok team has endured plenty of strife in the past couple of months and they never gave up and were duly rewarded with the penalty that Pretorius stroked over for a famous win.
The Springboks conclude their Tri-Nations campaign against the Wallabies at Ellis Park next Saturday.
Springboks: Tries: Bryan Habana (22nd min), Pedrie Wannenburg (55th min). Conversions: Andre Pretorius 1 (22nd min). Penalties: Pretorius 3 (7th min, 16th min, 77th min).
All Blacks: Tries: Dan Carter (20th min), Joe Rokocoko (65th min). Conversions: Carter 2 (20th min, 65th min). Penalties: Carter 2 (10th min, 40th min).
By Andrew Hollely, at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace