Just as things can't get any better for the All Blacks, they can't get any worse for the Springboks.
This morning's come back from the dead 29-22 win over South Africa in Soweto highlighted just how good this All Blacks team is and that even when star playmaker Dan Carter is below par they can still come through with the goods.
With three minutes to go the All Blacks were down 22-17 and it looked as if the bonus point to win the Tri-Nations would be the only thing they'd be able to take from the game.
But Richie McCaw scored in the corner after spending three minutes lurking out on one flank, then straight from the restart, following Carter's missed conversion, Nonu made a break and set up Israel Dagg for the match winner.
The 94,033 spectators in the crowd that created a deafening atmosphere for 79 minutes were stunned into silence. So too was their captain John Smit, who looked shattered that the Springboks had lost again, their third defeat of the year to the All Blacks.
This loss will hurt South African rugby and Boks coach Peter de Villiers. The Springboks had put everything into this game and played every emotional card they could during the week. The stakes could hardly have been higher for them and there may be some casualties from this loss.
Richie McCaw said at the captain's run on Friday that the key to this game was scoring early to silence the crowd, but they weren't able to do it.
South Africa started strongly and got the 16th man they were looking for.
The All Blacks had a sluggish start to their set pieces, they were almost pushed off the ball with their first scrum and a lineout just after almost went wrong when the Springboks read a throw to the front.
But the All Blacks kept their cool under the early pressure and took the lead through a Carter penalty.
The Springboks' ferocity at the tackle was something the visitors found hard to handle, especially when Schalk Burger came crashing in, using his strength to force turnovers.
And it was also on attack where Burger made a big impact, smashing over Ma'a Nonu and Keven Mealamu for the opening try of the game.
Down 13-9 it was Jimmy Cowan's defensive blunder that left a great big gap in the defence for Francois Hougaard to run through, but it was a tough call to penalise Joe Rokocoko for running into the Springboks halfback after he put up a kick.
The All Blacks' first try came from a great break by Brad Thorn down the left flank, the ball was recycled quickly and spread wide, Nonu straightened the line of attack and when they went wide again there was plenty of space for Tony Woodcock to stroll in.
The sun had set by the start of the second half and two minutes into it Cowan, whose selection in the run-on team may have been down to loyalty from the coaches as much as anything else, paid the price for an inconsistent half and was substituted two minutes into the second period.
His replacement, Piri Weepu, was much more effective, utilising his skills at taking the ball to the line.
Steyn's penalties took the score to 22-14 with 13 minutes to go, but another Carter penalty brought the All Blacks back to within a try.
But after that kick Carter had a meltdown, he knocked the ball on when trying to catch a kick that was going straight down his throat, then missed a simple penalty with six minutes to go.
But cometh the hour, cometh McCaw, who did enough to make the scores level and Dagg who did the job for the win.
New Zealand now have 23 points and have won the Tri-Nations for the 10th time in 15 years with a game to spare.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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