The All Blacks beat the Springboks 38-27 in an epic Ellis Park Test to retain the Castle Rugby Championship title, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
For 58 minutes, it looked as if the Boks could achieve a bonus-point win and deny the All Blacks a bonus point to lift the trophy. By then Jean de Villiers's men had scored four tries and just needed to win the game by eight points or more and restrict their opponents to three tries.
But then Beauden Barrett scored the All Blacks' fourth try, which ensured the trophy would stay in New Zealand, and a fifth try by Kieran Read secured the win.
It was a Test that lived up to all the hype.
After doing their Kapa o pango haka, the All Blacks surprised the Boks with a short kick-off. They regained possession and took the ball through a dozen phases before Read's kick-ahead went into touch.
But it was the Boks who dominated the next 10 minutes with Bryan Habana kicking the loose ball into the All Blacks half. Soon after, the Boks went wide to JJ Engelbrecht, who put De Villiers away. But the Bok captain didn't get the support he needed on the ground and the ball was turned over.
The Boks went wide again a couple of minutes later, this time to Willie le Roux, whose chip and chase resulted in a 5m scrum to the Boks. Duane Vermeulen came close to scoring, but the All Blacks stood firm and conceded a penalty that Morné Steyn kicked between the uprights.
However, Juandré Kruger failed to collect the restart and the All Blacks surged back on to the attack. Read got past Willem Alberts and found Ben Smith, who cut back inside past two defenders to score a try that silenced the crowd.
They weren't quiet for long, though, as the Boks hit back with two brilliant tries from Habana in the space of three minutes.
First Steyn threw a skip pass to Duane Vermeulen, who burst into opposition territory and sent Habana away for the score. Then a superb offload in the tackle gave the winger possession again on the halfway line. He chipped over Ben Smith, waited a split second as the ball bounced, collected it and ran around under the posts to make it 15-7 at the end of the first quarter.
But Habana then tweaked a hamstring, which forced him to leave the field, and the All Blacks scored their second try through Liam Messam, driven over after Aaron Smith had been tackled just short of the line.
The All Blacks were lucky not to be reduced to 14 men on the half-hour mark when Andrew Hore cynically put his hands in at a ruck in their red zone when the Boks were on the attack. Steyn kicked for the corner instead of at posts, the Boks won the lineout and were then awarded another penalty when Hore infringed again. That only earned the hooker, and the All Blacks, a warning from referee Nigel Owens.
The Boks suffered a big blow just before the break when their battering ram, Willem Alberts, left the field on a stretcher after taking a head knock and was replaced by Siya Kolisi.
Instead of using their forwards to take the ball up two or three times from the next scrum, and wind down the clock, the Boks kicked for touch and gave the All Blacks time to launch another attack. It ended with Messam scoring their third try.
Messam, though, was yellow-carded for a professional foul at a ruck when the Boks were on the attack early in the second half. Fourie du Preez took the quick tap and Le Roux crashed over for the Boks' third try that put them back in front 22-21.
The Boks almost scored a minute later when they went wide to Engelbrecht, who passed back inside to Le Roux. He was tackled just short of the line, and Steyn lost the ball forward after picking it up. The All Blacks then came close themselves when Ma'a Nonu was prevented from grounding the ball by Kolisi.
Bizarrely, Heyneke Meyer had taken off the Du Plessis brothers on the 50-minute mark, replacing them with Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen in what appeared to be a pre-determined plan (Gurthrö Steenkamp would replace Beast Mtawarira soon after). The Boks had been dominating the All Blacks scrum until then, and had a 5m scrum on their tryline, against seven men, when Bismarck and Jannie were pulled. The Bok scrum failed to dominate from then on.
Barrett kicked a penalty, before being run over by Jean de Villiers, who scored the Boks' fourth try in the 58th minute. But Kirchner then kicked directly into touch after the Boks had taken the ball back into their 22, and from the lineout the All Blacks scored a title-sealing fourth try, through Barrett, who brushed off a poor tackle from JJ Engelbrecht.
That left the Boks having to play for the Test win and not the title and their chances of doing that were boosted when Ben Franks was yellow-carded for a swinging arm on Coenie Oosthuizen. Yet it was the All Blacks who scored their fifth try with 14 men when Julian Savea put Read away.
Le Roux almost scored a late try for the Boks after intercepting an All Blacks pass inside their half, but a Barrett ankle tap saw him put a foot in touch before going over in the right-hand corner.
Springboks – Tries: Bryan Habana (2), Willie le Roux, Jean de Villiers. Conversions: Morné Steyn (2). Penalty: Steyn.
All Blacks – Tries: Ben Smith, Liam Messam (2), Beauden Barrett, Keiran Read. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (3), Beauden Barrett (2). Penalty: Beauden Barrett.
Springboks – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Charles Piutau.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Matfield battling against time
Victor Matfield has looked every bit his age and needs to find his stride to allay concerns about his longevity, writes RYAN VREDE.
Kriel’s a game changer
Jaco Kriel’s game-breaking ability makes him a unique prospect among South Africa’s openside contenders, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Strauss’s smart move
Adriaan Strauss will be a central part of the Bulls’ and Springboks’ campaigns in 2015, writes RYAN VREDE.