The Springboks added the 2009 Tri-Nations series to their already bulging trophy cabinet with a nailbiting 32-29 win over the All Blacks at in Hamilton on Saturday.
Not only does this mean a whitewash of the All Blacks in 2009 – three out of three – but the win at the Waikato Stadium means the Boks have in their possession every trophy available to them – the World Cup, a B & I Lions series victory, the Tri-Nations, the Mandela Challenge Plate (for a 2-1 series win against Australia) and the Freedom Com (beating the All Blacks 3-0).
But back to Saturday.
What a victory for John Smit and his men and nobody will gainsay that they deserved it. Close at the end, but victory deserved as the generous All Blacks through their captain, Richie McCaw, and their coach, Graham Henry, noted.
The All Blacks, of course, went into the match with hopes and determination, knowing exactly what they needed to do to get a hand closer to the trophy. They needed to win, but they lost. They needed four tries; they got two. They needed to keep the Springboks pointless but the visitors got four points, in the end the Springboks were comfortable winners of the Tri-Nations with two wins abroad and just one defeat, and those wins included a rare whitewashing of the All Blacks.
John Smit, a man for any country to be proud to have as a leader, was gracious in victory as he praised the All Blacks, knowing that they were never beaten till after you have heard the final whistle, and this one ended desperately close after it seemed that it was a one-horse race.
Those last 25 minutes or so were thrilling, helter-skelter rugby that produced two thrilling tries and brought the All Blacks to a touch from victory, a long diagonal kick just floating into touch above the head of tall, leaping Isaac Ross five metres from the Springbok line, a minute beyond the match’s 80 minutes. Of course, it was a gripping match and, of course, the Kiwis fought to the bitter end – and it was a bitter end for them, even if there still is a match against Australia in Wellington next week.
From time to time the Springboks, when they have wobbled, have spoken about going back to their structures. They were back leaning on their structures again – playing down there, keeping pressure, cutting out errors and defending.
Their defence was not perfect as they missed tackles but there were so many of them so often in good positions. And often those tackles were sore. Twice Ma’a Nonu was bustling ahead, twice Pierre Spies brought him down and twice he lost the ball forward.
In the early part of the match the Springboks did well in the possession stakes, taking the first four New Zealand throws into the line-out. They also forced the All Blacks into handling errors and then late in the match they won crucial turnovers with Bismarck du Plessis and Heinrich Brüssow as their best poachers. The All Blacks scored brilliant tries but the Springboks scored the ones which counted and they were the rewards of pressure.
Oddly enough they did not quite play “down there” as they would have liked but scored long-range points through the prodigious boot of François Steyn. Hamilton is not at altitude where the ball travels far but the Springbok fullback certainly made it travel far – 60 metres, 58 metres and then an easy 52 metres to score nine points for his country and produce a sinking feeling in the whole of New Zealand. It’s hard to come back from that but the way they did shows the character and mental strength of the All Blacks.
The penalty count again favoured the home side (12-8) but this time getting close was not necessary for scoring.
It was the first time that the two countries had met in Hamilton and the Waikato Stadium was packed with nearly 32 000 people, many of them supporting the Springboks.
Daniel Carter kicked off for New Zealand and immediately the All Blacks scored. Victor Matfield caught the kick-off but the referee penalised Smit for obstruction in supporting his vice-captain. Carter goaled. 3-0.
South Africa attacked when the All Blacks failed to secure a kick by Morné Steyn and the Springboks were close but the All Blacks repulsed them.
On the Springbok 10-metre line Sitiveni Sivivatu was ruled offside at a tackle thing and François Steyn lined it up. It soared high, it dipped but kept on travelling and it was over the bar – to the joy of François Steyn and the astonishment of the whole of the rugby world. Isaac Newton’s law of gravity seemed to be losing its authority. 3-3 after 6 minutes.
Three minutes later Tony Woodcock held on at a tackle and François Steyn again thumped the ball over, this time from about two metres shorter. 6-3 to the Springboks after 9 minutes. The Springboks were not again behind in the match.
The first scrum came after 13 minutes and, as happens so often, the first scrum collapsed. As seldom happens the first scrum was penalised, Smit pointed out as the guilty party. 6-6 after 14 minutes.
The Springboks were in All Black territory and Morné Steyn slapped over his third Test dropped goal. 9-6 after 17 minutes.
South Africa won another New Zealand line-out and Fourie du Preez kicked high. He chased and leapt to compete with Joe Rokocoko for the ball. The tall All Black wing knocked it on and then Mils Muliaina knocked it to Bakkies Botha who went surging for the line. Jimmy Cowan, brave as ever, brought him down but Du Preez, who started it, finished it with a drive over the line which the TMO confirmed. Morné Steyn converted from far out. 17-6 after 20 minutes. New Zealand’s targets were moving further and further back from them.
The Springboks were penalised at the kick-off as the All Blacks dominated the tackle, and Carter goaled. 16-9 after 22 minutes. But four minutes later the Long Tom boot of François Steyn goaled when Nonu was penalised at a tackle. 19-9.
A moment of silliness by Kieran Read gave the Springboks another three points. Bryan Habana had knocked on and the referee had blown for the scrum when Habana kicked ahead and Read moved off his line to put a broad shoulder into the slender wing. This was penalised and Morné Steyn goaled. 22-9 after 32 minutes. It took the Springboks 20 minutes to score again.
Several Springboks were penalised for moving ahead of Spies’s kick from within his 22 and Carter made the score 22-12 at the break.
In the latter part of the half, the All Blacks had done well with pick-’n-drive, had fractured the Springbok maul and attacked from some clever work at the front of an attacking line-out till Carter grubbered into in-goal where François Steyn killed it.
The Springboks were close early in the second half when Sivivatu knocked on a kick by Morné Steyn. The flyhalf retrieved the ball sold a dummy and darted at the line. He gave to Bismarck du Plessis who seemed likely to score till felled by Cowan.
The All Blacks were running more now but their hands were unusually insecure – perhaps because of the wet.
Their second-half line-outs were better. After a skew throw and a quick throw they won a normal line-out and went right. Carter threw a pass straight to Jean de Villiers and the famous ball-thief raced some 43 meters to score under the posts. 29-12 after 51 minutes.
It would take a miracle of skill and resolve to produce an All Black victory out of this. The miracle almost happened.
The All Blacks ran more and more and play suited them by becoming looser and looser.
When Du Preez was penalised behind a sloppy Springbok scrum, Cowan tapped and strong Isaia Toeava, just on as a substitute for Donald, broke strongly down the left and gave to Sivivatu who wrong-footed Du Preez to score in Schalk Burger’s tackle. Carter converted. 29-19 after 55 minutes.
The All Blacks were now desperate for a try and opted for a scrum instead of a penalty in front of the posts – and then Woodcock’s was penalised at the scrum as Smit drove him backwards. The next time the All Blacks had a penalty, one of three in a row against Bakkies Botha, Carter kicked at posts. 29-22 with 15 minutes to play.
There were two great attacking moments from Bismarck du Plessis. First he charged down Cowan’s kick then he won a turnover and Du Preez grubbered downfield where Muliaina was penalised for holding on. Morné Steyn made it 32-22 with 9 minutes to play.
The All Blacks were not done. Substitute Adam Thomson won a deep line-out and they attacked but a turnover won by Bismarck du Plessis set the Springboks attacking till the All Blacks won a turnover off Danie Rossouw in their own 22. They ran and then attacked from a scrum till Carter kicked a high, left-to-right diagonal which McCaw caught right in the corner. He dropped to ground for the try. Carter took the conversion immediately and goaled. 32-29 with a minute to play.
Back came the men in black till Carter attempted another diagonal, this time from right to left, and the ball just eluded Ross to go into touch.
That was it.
Man of the Match: This seems such a silly exercise to try and pick out one from a special team with special leaders in John Smit, Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez.
Moment of the Match: An intercept try, like the one Jan de Villiers scored, is always exciting and there was Dan Carter’s pin-point kick but somehow because it epitomised the man and his leadership we are going to choose John Smit’s tackle on Brad Thorn.
Villain of the Match: For wasteful stupidity - Kieran Read’s shouldering of Bryan Habana.
For New Zealand
Tries: Sivivatu, McCaw
Cons: Carter 2
Pens: Carter 5
For South Africa
Tries: Du Preez, De Villiers
Cons: M Steyn 2
Pens: F Steyn 3, M Steyn 2
DG: M Steyn
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Ma’a Nonu, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 John Afoa, 18 Adam Thomson, 19 Rodney So’oialo, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Isaia Toeava, 22 Cory Jane.
South Africa: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 John Smit (captain), 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Adi Jacobs, 22 Ruan Pienaar
Courtesy of Rugby 365Tweet