It required a half-time rev up, but after confirming their unbeaten Rugby Championship status in Soweto today, satisfied All Blacks coach Steve Hansen praised his side and skipper.
The All Blacks broke the Springboks' spirit immediately after half-time, ensuring captain Richie McCaw became the first man to achieve 100 test victories, a remarkable achievement given he has only lost 12.
"It's not too often when you have a build-up like we had about this being a massive game that you actually get the performance from both teams. It was great for rugby. We've got our recipe for the cake right," Hansen said before turning to pat McCaw on the back.
"To my mate here on my right, congratulations."
McCaw's century of wins wasn't always assured.
The toll of sleepless nights, caused from travelling across two time zones in the last two weeks, was evident for much of the All Blacks' lacklustre first-half performance.
Irish referee Alain Rolland was quick to punish their ill-discipline at the breakdown and it wasn't until Israel Dagg beat two defenders to set up Ma'a Nonu's strike, 20 seconds into the second-half, the All Blacks kicked into gear.
From there, it became a battle of wills. Once in-front the All Blacks regained composure and played with freedom to take control.
Dan Carter nailed a rare dropped goal and expertly forced the Boks deep into their half.
It was clear the South Africans didn't have the natural ability to score rapid-fire, long-range tries against a defensive system of the All Blacks' quality. Everything they threw at the visitors was repelled in the second spell.
"To strike straight away after half-time, you could see you boys lift," McCaw said.
"We'd had a stern talking amongst ourselves at the break. We'd been ill-disciplined and kept the Boks in the game through penalties. From there a lot of the game we had control of.
"The goal this week was to make sure we had a full tank ... to be honest I don't think we were 100 per cent full when we started but it comes down to the mental desire to keep getting up.
"In the changing room the boys haven't got much left. You can't underestimate two big travels like that over two weeks. It's pretty tough but you never use that as an excuse."
Heading into the interval, leading 16-12 with a typically simple but effective forward orientated game-plan working, Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer was buoyant about celebrating his 45th birthday, along with 80,000 supporters.
But Meyer was forced to lament a lapse of concentration that cost his side any chance of pressurising the All Blacks for the entire contest.
"The big turning point was just after half-time. We gave away a turnover and they scored from here, suddenly we are 17-16 behind," Meyer said.
"The big difference between them and any team in the world is when they get chances they get points. They were the much better team.
"I thought Carter was superb. Once they are ahead you have to chase it and they control it from there. You're never going to beat them when you're chasing the game because they force you into mistakes and capitalise on that."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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