Jake Whiteâ€™s Springboks came in for huge praise from his counterpart Graham Henry following their narrow win on Saturday.
Henry was magnanimous in defeat, preferring to praise the Springboks for a superb win at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Phokeng.
â€œI have nothing but praise for the Springboks,â€ Henry said at the post-match press conference. â€œThey produced a huge display and thoroughly deserved the win. Well done to them. It is never easy when you are up against it. It has been a really tough time for them.â€
The Boks needed a last-gasp penalty from Andre Pretorius to secure their first win in six Tests with a narrow 21-20 victory. The match had see-sawed throughout an exciting 80 minutes in front of a disappointing crowd of only about 26,000.
The lead changed hands on five occasions, but neither team was ever out of sight. It ultimately came down to the Boks desire being more than that of the visitors. â€œThey were more hungry than us. They were desperate for a win and they never gave us an inch,â€ said Henry.
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw arrived at the press conference with a bad cut under his eye and looked like he had been roughed up a bit. â€œNo, it was just a real Test match out there and the Springboks beat us fair and square. We were probably not as good as we have been, but that is no excuse,â€ said McCaw.
The All Blacks were hassled into errors all afternoon by a Bok team that played with an intensity they have not displayed all year â€“ especially in the second half. â€œThey really forced us into errors,â€ added McCaw. â€œWe started well, but found the going really tough. We definitely made far too many mistakes and credit to the Boks for that.â€
Henry agreed: â€œWe didnâ€™t take our chances, but that was because of the huge pressure they put us under. But it has been a great year, we have won the Tri-Nations. Yes, we wanted a clean sweep, but we were beaten by a better team today.â€
The All Blacks fell two short of equalling the world record for consecutive Test wins and Henry lamented that fact. â€œWe wanted that record for sure, but when you have won 15 games on the trot you get complacent. I would like to look at this loss as a positive.â€
By Andrew Hollely, at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace