3 August 2009
With a Tri-Nations record 31 points from flyhalf Morne Steyn, the Springboks notched up their second successive win over New Zealand on Saturday, beating the All Blacks 31-19 in Durban to extend their lead at the top of the Tri-Nations standings.
A number of Springboks were playing in milestone matches and got to celebrate in style; Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers led the Springboks onto the field in their 50th tests, while captain John Smit captained the Boks for a world record 60th time on his home ground in front of friends and family. When he was substituted three minutes from the end of the contest, Smit left the field with a rare self-indulgent grin to the cheers of an adoring crowd.
While Steyn was the star of the show, scoring a try and landing nine out of 10 kicks while playing with an assurance that belies his relative inexperience, he was quick to credit the SA forward pack after the match. “I couldn’t have done that without the Bok pack, if our forwards from one to eight had not stood up so strongly,” he said.
Foundation for victory
Steyn was spot on in his assessment that the foundation of the South African victory was laid up front. The Springbok tight five were industrious, physical and dominated their counterparts, especially in the lineouts and rucks, while the loose trio functioned smoothly and effectively as a unit.
As impressive as the pack was, it was the team work of the Springboks that was most impressive. This included making a good kicking game an outstanding one by following up on kicks and putting pressure on the New Zealand back three, as well as defending together and ferociously around the fringes of rucks.
The big boots of Fourie du Preez, Morne Steyn and Francois Steyn kept the Kiwis pinned in their own half and they struggled to play the game in the South African half due to the pressure applied by the Springboks on defence.
All Black captain Richie McCaw admitted after the contest that it was South Africa’s ability to apply pressure throughout the game and then force errors that won them the match. “They got guys right across the backline that can kick the ball and they kicked really well,” he said.
New Zealand coach Graham Henry was magnanimous in his praise of the South African performance, calling it “outstanding”.
Despite two wins in succession over the All Blacks, Springbok coach Peter de Villiers was quick to stress that his charges can still improve a lot. ‘We weren’t clinical enough, there’s certainly room for improvement,” he said.
The match at Durban’s Absa Stadium started in cold conditions, with rain threatening; it began to fall midway through the first half.
Only two minutes into the contest the All Blacks escaped what could have been a horror opening when scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan had an attempted clearance charged down. Three Springboks chased after the ball, but it found flyhalf Stephen Donald, who snatched it away and spun to the ground, conceding a five-metre scrum.
In the third minute, JP Pietersen forced a penalty when he made a good tackle following up on kick. The Kiwis didn’t release the ball in the tackle, and Morne Steyn was presented with an opportunity to kick at goal. His aim was true, and South Africa took an early lead.
A minute later, however, it was all square after Donald landed a penalty for New Zealand. Referee Nigel Owens had pinged the home side for going off their feet to seal off a ball at a ruck.
Then, with some good counter-attacking and slick hands, the All Blacks managed to create an overlap on the left-hand touchline. Lock Isaac Ross took the final pass and raced over in the corner to put the visitors in the lead. Donald added two points with a sweetly struck penalty from the touchline to put the Kiwis 10-3 ahead.
It didn’t take long for South Africa to reply as they immediately put New Zealand under pressure and forced a couple of penalties, both of which Steyn nailed to reduce the deficit to just one point.
A dangerous counter-attack by the All Blacks was slowed down by a high tackle by JP Pietersen on scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan, which did enough to blunt the speed of the attack and eventually stop it. However, referee Owens pulled out a yellow card and sent the Bok winger to the sin bin for 10 minutes.
Stephen Donald stuck over the resulting penalty and the New Zealanders moved four points clear.
Only three minutes after Pietersen’s departure, lock Ross made a silly error when he entered the maul from the back on the Springboks’ side and he joined Pietersen on the sidelines for committing a professional foul.
Steyn kicked the penalty and it was once again a one-point game.
With half-time approaching and the Springboks on the attack in New Zealand’s 22, scrumhalf Fourie du Preez pounced on a ball that squirted loose from a scrum. He attacked to the open side and then passed to Steyn. The flyhalf, sizing up the situation perfectly, stepped back outside off his right foot and ran through a big gap before diving over for a try.
He converted his five-pointer to extend South Africa’s lead to six points.
Right on half-time, Steyn was at it again, knocking over another penalty as the Kiwis found themselves on the wrong side of referee Owen’s whistle for the umpteenth time.
The scoreboard at the break read South Africa 22 New Zealand 13, with all of South Africa’s 22 points belonging to Steyn, which meant he had tied the South African record for points by a Springbok in a test against the All Blacks, set by Jannie de Beer, in a single half.
John Smit and company were good value for their lead as they had dominated territory and put the New Zealanders under a huge amount of pressure, especially at lineout time. The Kiwis had at times looked dangerous on the counter-attack, but South Africa was clearly in the ascendancy.
Just three minutes into the second half, the All Blacks made two changes, bringing on Piri Weepu for Jimmy Cowan at scrumhalf, and replacing hooker Andrew Hore with Keven Mealamu, not that it ended up helping the struggling New Zealand lineout.
The All Blacks put together a sharp counter-attack in the 50th minute, but Conrad Smith was tackled early by Bakkies Botha when following up his own chip kick and the big lock was shown a yellow card for his indiscretion.
Donald kicked the easy penalty from inside the South African 22 to reduce the Bok lead to four points.
A short while later the gap was back to nine points when New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, who was fighting a fascinating battle with SA flank Heinrich Brussouw for control at ruck time, was blown up for holding onto the ball on the ground. Steyn was his usual assured self with the kick.
On the hour, Luke McAlister, who had just replaced Donald, put over a great kick from the halfway line, leaving South Africa six points clear with 20 minutes remaining.
Soon, however, the South African lead was extended beyond a single score when Mealamu gave away a penalty and Steyn made the visitors pay once more.
Nine out of nine
With seven minutes remaining, the All Blacks were penalised for deliberately wheeling a scrum and Steyn put South Africa 31-19 ahead with his ninth successful kick in succession.
As time ran out, SA coach De Villiers cleared the South African bench with the match clearly won.
Steyn had an opportunity to make it 10 from 10 in the final minute, but, almost unbelievably, he pushed his kick wide to the right of the posts. It didn’t matter. The match had been won and the Springboks celebrated a well-deserved victory.
They next face the Wallabies in Cape Town on Saturday, 8 July. Another win would put the Boks in the drivers’ seat to add the Tri-Nations title to South Africa’s titles of World Cup champions, IRB Sevens World Series champions, and Super 14 champions.
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