A much improved Springbok team had to watch in disbelieve as the All Blacks scored 12 points in the final five minutes of the historic Tri-Nations Test at FNB Stadium in Gauteng, breaking 90’000+ Bok fans’ hearts with a 22-29 victory over the Springboks.
The improvement in the Springbok team was evident from the onset. They were much more physical and clinical on defense, looked much sharper at the breakdown and even their fitness saw an improvement since coming back from the overseas leg of the Tri-Nations.
Dan Carter and Morne Steyn each exchanged two penalties in the early stages of the match before Schalk Burger drove over from a ruck to score the first try of the match. The referee called on the TMO to adjudge the try but assistant referee Alain Rolland rushed over to the man in charge – Nigel Owens – and confirmed that a try has indeed been scored. Owens immediately awarded the try and Steyn converted to put SA ahead 13-6 in the 26th minute.
Carter and Steyn then exchanged a further penalty a piece as the Springboks dominated collisions, rucks and demolished the All Blacks at scrum-time.
It was the All Blacks who had the last say of the first half when Tony Woodcock ran in for a soft try on the wing. The hard work was done moments earlier by All Blacks lock Brad Thorn when he broke the Boks’ defensive line and eventually got pulled down by Danie Rossouw. Quick recycling by the All Blacks loose forwards established an easy overlap and Woodcock sprinted over in the corner. Carter missed the conversion and the Boks went into the change rooms with a 16-14 lead.
The second half continued in similar fashion with the Springbok defense, led by talismanic Cheetahs captain Juan Smith, driving the All Blacks back in the tackles and forcing numerous turn overs with great counter rucking. Any critic that questioned the inclusion of Juan Smith for this test, because of a long injury lay-off and lack of game-time, would have been silenced and left in awe of the work ratio and physicality he brought to the Springboks on both defense and attack.
Even referee Nigel Owens got a piece of the action when he got in the way of a Juan Smith tackle and got shoved in the back. He fell to the ground and landed underneath an advancing Schalk Burger who ploughed his head into the FNB Stadium turf. After a few minutes of medical attention he confirmed that he was okay and continued the game while Juan Smith patted him on the back and apologised.
Morne Steyn added two more penalties, one for a scrum infringement and the other for coming in from the side at a maul, to put the Boks ahead 22-14 after 63 minutes. With only 17 minutes remaining and the Boks looking like they were in complete control, the 90’000+ strong crowd started celebrating and anticipating a convincing and much needed win over the All Blacks.
But then came the crucial mistakes from the Springbok coaching staff. They substituted their three best players of the night in the final 20 minutes, namely flanker Juan Smith, lock Flip van der Merwe and scrum-half Francois Hougaard.
With Smith and Van der Merwe looking on from touch, the Boks lacked that extra bit of physicality on defense and the All Blacks built phase after phase and slowly made their way towards the Bok try line. It was Smith’s replacement Francois Louw that got penalised for going off his feet at ruck time, giving Dan Carter his fourth penalty conversion of the night and putting the All Blacks within five points and only 12minutes remaining.
With only three minutes to go and the All Blacks attacking ferociously, the All Blacks spread the ball from side to side and a quick pass from Cory Jane to his captain McCaw, saw McCaw sprint for the corner where three Bok defenders tried their desperately to force him out. But as the decision went to the TMO you could see from the All Blacks’ body language that they knew they scored. After numerous views, and a hint of McCaw’s left leg going out before he grounded the ball, TV referee Shaun Veldsman communicated to Nigel Owens that he may award the try. Dan Carter lined up the conversion and FNB Stadium erupted as he pulled it wide. 22 all with one minute remaining.
The Boks rushed the kick-off as they tried to pull this one out of the fire, but a slipped tackle from Springbok captain John Smit on his 100th Test put the All Blacks into acres of space where Israel Dagg took the final pass and sprinted away from the Bok defense to score a heart-breaking try and securing the All Blacks’ 10th Tri-Nations title in front of more than 90’000 Bok supporters with their heads in their hands. Carter converted the try while Boks captain John Smit crouched in disbelieve of what just transpired.
SPRINGBOKS 22 – 29 ALL BLACKS (Half-time 16-14)
Try: Schalk Burger
Conversion: Morne Steyn
Penalties: Morne Steyn (5)
Tries: Tony Woodcock, Richie McCaw, Israel Dagg
Conversion: Dan Carter
Penalties: Dan Carter (4)
Photos by Gerhard Steenkamp