Dramatic end to epic game

GREGOR PAUL, writing for the Herald on Sunday, gives a New Zealand view on the Ellis Park classic.

A brilliant game. A bad result. But the All Blacks can't feel too down about suffering their first loss in who knows how many games.

The Boks took their win. They fought for everything. They were superb everywhere and maybe they were a bit lucky with the final penalty – but no one could begrudge them their win.

It was yet another epic encounter between these two and what's become clear is that while there is nothing between them – there is a big gap back to everyone else now.

While the All Blacks can take some solace in the fact South Africa had to win with a superb performance – they will still feel a little upset that they didn't quite shut the door after a clawing their way back in front.

To get back into the game when they were 24-13 down at half-time was a huge effort by the All Blacks.

South Africa were running rampant at that point and Ellis Park felt like the scariest place in the world. But the All Blacks, as they have done so often, believed in their game.

They spurned shots for goal and opted to keep the pressure on. And on. They camped in the Bok 22 and eventually the pressure told. Two tries came and the All Blacks were in front 25-24 with seven minutes remaining.

They looked like they had held on when they turned the ball over with two minutes left to win a scrum. But the crowd howled as the big screen showed that Liam Messam had caught Schalk Burger earlier in the move with a head high.

It was accidental but it was a penalty which Pat Lambie nudged over from 55m to win. Well, the Boks had to survive a handy All Blacks attack before they won it.

It was a fittingly dramatic, epic ending for an epic game. The pace of the game was different world. No other teams could have lived with these two. It was at times a little difficult to comprehend how ferocious it was.

The breakdown especially. The Boks were superb at getting numbers and bodies in good positions and it never relented.

Perception about the Boks couldn't be any more wrong. Somehow they have become the world's great entertainers.

They were heading that way a little bit last year with the unearthing of Willie le Roux. But now they have Handré Pollard as well – they are a team with the ability to cut teams up with basic catch-pass and run.

They were easily the more dangerous backline in the first half. Nearly everything they did troubled the All Blacks and perhaps most interesting of all, was their ability to turn defence into attack and launch deadly counter-attacks from deep.

Francois Hougaard's opening try began pretty much on the Springbok goalline and owed everything to awareness, pace and perfect support lines.

Cornal Hendricks would have had another just before the break had it not been for a miracle recovery run by Malakai Fekitoa. He had no business beating the flying wing to smother the loose ball that had been booted downfield. But he got there and at least forced the Boks to make one more play to score the try.

That duly came when Pollard hit the line flat and hard and had the strength to spin over in the tackle.

The Boks looked just about unassailable at that stage until the All Blacks dug deep and pushed back to within a whisker of victory.

Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

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