Boks showed mental steel

The Springboks’ composure in the final quarter was what earned them a ground-breaking victory over the All Blacks, writes JON CARDINELLI at Ellis Park.

The final whistle sounded, and Heyneke Meyer leaped from his seat in the coaches’ box. The Bok players on the park celebrated wildly. Spectators in the Ellis Park stands turned to each other and embraced as if it was the 1995 World Cup final all over again.

The scoreboard reflected a 27-25 win for the Boks. Finally, after three years, the Boks had clinched that statement-making result.

We’ve come to expect dramatic finishes to these encounters, and usually it's the New Zealanders who finish on the right side of the result. Indeed, the All Blacks came very close to completing a stunning comeback in the second half of another epic match at Ellis Park.

But on this occasion, the Boks held their nerve to first slot the points and regain the lead, and then make the game-winning turnover. Pat Lambie kicked a 55m penalty in the 79th minute, and then Duane Vermeulen made the defensive play that ended the game.

The Boks were outstanding in the first half, with the gifted Handré Pollard spearheading a thrilling attacking performance. But even though they put three tries past the All Blacks and took a 21-13 lead to the shed, it was always going to be a challenge to stay with the All Blacks in the last quarter.

And for a period during that second stanza, it seemed this game would follow the script of the two previous Tests between South Africa and New Zealand on the Highveld. The Boks lost the second half of the clash at Soccer City in 2012, and were outlasted again at Ellis Park in 2013. The 2014 encounter was bound to witness a test of their resolve and fitness in the dying stages.

The Boks lost the second half of this clash 12-6. Earlier in the week, Kieran Read declared that the All Blacks would look to tire the Boks and surpass them in the final quarter. It seemed that all was going according to plan when the visitors scored tries in the 66th and 71st minutes.

But the Boks showed terrific ticker to play themselves back into contention. The shoulder barge by Liam Messam on Schalk Burger handed Lambie an opportunity to kick for goal in the 79th minute.

The replacement flyhalf had missed a drop-goal attempt earlier, and the pressure couldn’t have been greater considering South Africa’s desperation to beat the No 1 side on the planet. Lambie kept his cool to slot the goal.

The All Blacks didn’t go away. They played themselves into a position to win the game, but it was the Boks who then made the match-winning play. Vermeulen clamped his arms around the ball and referee Wayne Barnes, who had allowed a contest at the breakdown for the whole game, awarded South Africa a penalty.

The Boks weren’t great in the second half. They leaked two soft tries at a crucial stage of the contest, and that so nearly cost them the result.

However, they deserve credit for their response in those final 10 minutes. It was a sign of their mental steel, individually and as a collective. They beat the All Blacks, and the display at the death was just as much a statement as the result.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images

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