Springboks edge All Blacks in thriller

14 July 2008

It took a long time, but South Africa finally ended their decade-long run without a win on New Zealand soil with a thrilling 30-28 victory on Saturday. It was the Springboks’ first win in eight matches at Dunedin – and the All Blacks’ fourth loss ever at “The House of Pain”.

The South Africans also brought to an end New Zealand’s five-year unbeaten run at home, dating back to 2003 when the soon-to-be world champions England won 15-13 in Wellington.

It was a keenly contested clash with no more than six points – less than a converted try – separating the teams throughout the match.

Presents

As a fiftieth test present for Bakkies Botha, it could hardly have been better, and as a twenty-second birthday present for JP Pietersen, who was called up for the first time this season, it might well have been a bigger occasion than his landmark twenty-first birthday in 2007.

Both sides contributed to an epic clash with far more positive rugby than the previous week – there were fewer instances of off-the-ball incidents and the scrums were a lot tidier than they had been in Wellington. Even the lineouts looked more orderly.

For Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, the result was the best riposte possible in the wake of some heavy, and at times unkind and personal, criticism that he endured following the 19-8 loss the previous weekend in Wellington.

Carisbrook

Three years previously, at Carisbrook, the All Blacks had come from behind to score the winning points in a 31-27 victory with four minutes to play in a contest in which the lead changed hand six times.

This time around it was the Springboks that scored the winning points with four minutes to play. But back to the beginning of the contest.

All Black flyhalf Daniel Carter, who enjoyed a fantastic outing in New Zealand’s win the previous week, got proceedings underway in a bitingly cold Dunedin. Despite the nasty weather, an enthusiastic crowd had packed in to witness the showdown between the World Cup winners and New Zealand, who had moved to the number one ranking in world rugby after their 19-8 victory.

Carter puts NZ in front

It took four minutes to get the scoreboard moving and it was the All Blacks who made the first impression upon it. Springbok flank Schalk Burger was pinged for a high tackle on Carter – there was no malice in it, but the call was fair – and the Kiwis’ number-10 banged over the penalty attempt to put the home side 3-0 up.

The Boks could have had a penalty shortly afterwards for offsides at a ruck, but referee Goddard let it go. Two minutes later, however, Joe van Niekerk was blown up for entering a ruck from the side and Carter again hit the target to give New Zealand a 6-0 lead.

That advantage lasted only three minutes before Percy Montgomery reduced it to three points after Adam Thomson had been penalised for being offsides.

After a quarter-of-an-hour the All Blacks were again six points in front thanks to an offside call that went against South Africa.

Montgomery on target

As it had occurred earlier in the game, however, the six point lead lasted just three minutes before Montgomery struck his second penalty safely between the upright to make the score 9-6 in favour of New Zealand.

The veteran Bok fullback then pulled SA level with another sweetly struck penalty, but Carter responded within a couple of minutes to edged the All Blacks 12-9 in front.

After half-an-hour there was a crucial change to the New Zealand pack when lock Ali Williams was substituted. He had earlier come off second to Schalk Burger in a big hit that not only dazed the giant second-rower, it also re-injured his right ankle, which had caused him problems in training during the week.

The experienced Williams was replaced by newcomer Kevin O’Neill. He joined Anthony Boric, who was starting his first test in the All Black second row, while the opposition Springboks boasted 122 caps between their locks, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.

Springbok try

Shortly after the departure of Williams, the Springboks hit the front. Attacking off of a five-metre scrum, Joe van Niekerk burst quickly towards the corner flag on the blind. All Black captain Rodney So’oialo tried to cut down the angle, but Van Niekerk, who could have scored himself, passed to Pietersen. He dotted down to celebrate his twenty-second birthday in style.

After going the entire Super 14 and the early parts of the Currie Cup season without scoring a single try, Pietersen had finally scored a five-pointer and not just any try – one against the All Blacks in New Zealand.

Montgomery’s conversion attempt from the right-hand touchline was wide, but South Africa led 14-12.

Carter tried to put the New Zealanders back in front with a long-range drop-goal shot, but his kick was wide. It wouldn’t be the last time he attempted a drop in the game.

Drop goal

With three minutes to go to the interval, referee Goddard signalled that he was playing an advantage to South Africa after the All Blacks had strayed offsides at a ruck. The Springboks didn’t need a kick at goal as Butch James neatly slotted a drop goal to give South Africa a five-point lead at 17-12.

That advantage was reduced to only two points at the break when Carter struck yet another penalty after Adi Jacobs was somewhat harshly penalised for a late tackle.

From the restart Carter drilled a superb kick down into the Springboks’ 22-metre area to put Victor Matfield’s men under pressure.

It was clear that the New Zealanders were trying to up the pace in the second stanza and the Boks were under the cosh. Their stout defence, however, stood firm.

Eight minutes into the half, Francois Steyn replaced Adi Jacobs, who had picked up an injury, in the centre.

New Zealand try

New Zealand continued to camp in the South African 22-metre area and the pressure finally told. After Conrad Smith and Andrew Ellis had made inroads into the Springbok defence, big Sione Lauaki – on as a substitute for Jerome Kaino – made an immediate impact when he scored with his first touch of the game.

Carter added the extras to put New Zealand back in front by 22 points to 17.

It was down to a two-point lead only four minutes later when Leon MacDonald was penalised for a high tackle on Bryan Habana. With Percy Montgomery having just left the field for Conrad Jantjes, it was Butch James who slotted the kick.

With 15 minutes to go Carter showed his genius when he gathered a poor pass, spun almost 360 degrees, and snapped over a drop goal to open New Zealand’s lead to 25-20. Amazingly, it was only his second successful drop goal in test matches.

Two-point game

Bok flyhalf James made it a two-point game again with 12 minutes to play, but only a minute later it needed a superb tackle by Steyn right on the SA tryline on All Black loosehead prop Tony Woodcock to prevent the New Zealanders from replying with a try.

Then, with only eight minutes to go, it seemed that disaster had struck the Springboks’ cause. Captain Matfield was sin-binned for a high tackle on Lauaki. It wasn’t nasty – in fact far less dangerous than other high tackles seen earlier in the game – but referee Goddard has told both skippers the next player to make a high tackle would be sin-binned and Matfield was gone.

It was a huge loss to South Africa; Matfield had played an outstanding game, reigning supreme at the lineouts and making an industrious contribution around the field.

Wrote his name in the history books

With fourteen men to New Zealand’s fifteen, the Boks kept going and, with four minutes to go, Ricky Januarie wrote his name in the history books with an outstanding try.

From a ruck about 10 metres inside the All Black half, he spotted a gap around the fringes and darted through what had appeared to be a solid wall of black. New Zealand fullback Leon MacDonald came across to meet him, but Januarie chipped the ball over him.

Racing through at pace, he almost made it to the ball before it bounced. When it hit the ground, it bounced up into his hands and he dived across the tryline for a spectacular try. It wasn’t over yet, however, with the scores level at 28-28 and the conversion to come.

James had been replaced by Ruan Pienaar, so that left Francois Steyn to take the pressure kick. He struck it cleanly and true, edging South Africa into the lead.

All Black onslaught

New Zealand mounted a furious effort to get back the lead and Carter was wide, not far off target, to the right of the poles with a drop goal attempt.

With the Springbok defence unyielding, the All Blacks tried to set up Carter for another drop goal. After working the ball infield through a series of drives off the ruck, the ball was passed back to the flyhalf. He struck his kick and.it was charged down.

Steyn gathered the ball and, holding on for dear life, carried a couple of New Zealand tacklers 15 metres up the field before he was brought to ground. The hooter sounded and Januarie, fittingly, was able to clear the ball off the field to seal South Africa’s win.

SA worthy winners

While Carter had turned every kick that came his way into points, the Springboks had missed eight points – two penalties and a conversion – which suggests that they had a slight edge over New Zealand in the game; truth be told, that edge was worth about two points only.

With one more away contest – against Australia in Perth next week – and three home tests to come – two against the Wallabies and one against the All Blacks – the Springboks are in a good position to make an assault on the Tri-Nations title.

A win in the southern hemisphere tournament would certainly add lustre to their winning effort in the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

In the mean time, South Africa has that World Cup title and a return to the top of the IRB world rankings to cherish.

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