A horror goal-kicking performance from South African marksmen Morne and Francois Steyn let the All Blacks off the hook with a 21-11 Rugby Championship victory under the roof in Dunedin tonight.
While the home team crossed for two tries and held their rivals to just one over the 80 minutes, the Springboks had plenty of opportunities to steal the game and failed through an uncharacteristically woeful display of kicking that saw them miss five of six attempts in the first half alone.
In a typically physical encounter between these two archrivals, tries from fullback Israel Dagg and halfback Aaron Smith spelt the difference between the two sides offensively, while the All Blacks' defence - a trademark of their play this year - held steady.
South Africa had the best of the early running and were unlucky not to cross in the opening minutes, when Brian Habana had an overlap, but the final pass went behind him.
They were first on the board with a Morne Steyn penalty after 18 minutes, but the All Blacks responded immediately with a well-taken try to Dagg. When the ball went wide on halfway, Sam Whitelock made the half-break and offloaded to Keiran Read, and Dagg was on hand to take a back-handed pass to and leave the defence in his wake.
New Zealand did themselves no favours with their lack of discipline, gifting the Steyns plenty of opportunities at goal. One of their misses, though, was a 60-metre effort from Francois that just dropped below the crossbar.
The Springboks finally had something celebrate moments after the restart, when Habana steamed through a gap close to the lineout, shrugging off the tackle of replacement Aaron Smith, and then re-gathered his chip kick to dive across in the right corner.
But again, their lead was short-lived after an infringement at the breakdown allowed Aaron Cruden to slot his first penalty attempt of the night, making of mockery of the Steyns' wayward efforts with the boot.
Then Smith, who had spent the week in coach Steve Hansen's dogbox, made amends for his miss on Habana with a slice of individual brilliance that broke the Test open.
Gathering the ball from a ruck, he stepped his tackler and rocketed through a gap, completely flummoxing fullback Zane Kirchner.
Suddenly trailing by eight points, South Africa were soon down to 14 men, after replacement prop Dean Grayling launched himself head-first into a ruck, collecting All Blacks captain Richie McCaw with an elbow in the process.
Still, with 10 minutes remaining, they clawed back to 11-15 when Johan Goosen finally found the posts with a penalty. Cruden responded in kind with five minutes left, but the All Blacks had to survive some desperate moments as the clock wound down.
Replacement prop Charlies Faumuina and Kevin Mealamu combined to snuff out a Springbok assault with the line seemingly open before them, before Dagg unleashed a superb clearance kick from deep inside his in-goal to relieve the pressure.
To rub salt into the wound, Cruden succeeded with a final-minute penalty at the other end - courtesy of our friend Grayling again - to deprive South Africa even a bonus point.
"I think we knew exactly what to expect and it always seems to be like that," admitted McCaw. "They played a pretty physical game and took it to us early on.
"I was pretty proud of the way we held our composure - it was a good, old ding dong.
"In the later part of the second half, we started to get a bit of control and put a bit of pressure on.
Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers was understandably disappointed with the result, but took some consolation from his team's effort.
"To put the best team in the world under pressure for 80 minutes, to keep it so close and perhaps have a chance to win, that's a step in the right direction."
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