All Blacks snatch Tri-Nations glory
August 21, 2010
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw celebrates his try
© Getty Images
New Zealand reclaimed the Tri-Nations title with a thrilling 29-22 victory over South Africa at FNB Stadium in Soweto on Saturday.
The All Blacks broke Springbok hearts with two tries in the last three minutes, to skipper Richie McCaw and replacement wing Israel Dagg, ensuring a 3-0 whitewash over their fierce rivals for 2010 and misery for home skipper John Smit on the occasion of his 100th Test match.
The game drew close to 95,000 fans to the re-christened FNB Stadium, which hosted the FIFA World Cup final in July, the largest audience for a Test in South Africa since Cliff Morgan inspired the 1955 British & Irish Lions to victory over the Springboks at Ellis Park.
Schalk Burger scored the Springboks' sole try in the first-half, rewarding a resolute defensive display after their nightmare three-Test tour of New Zealand and Australia, but his good work was cancelled out by a well-taken effort from All Black loose-head Tony Woodcock before the break. Fly-halves Dan Carter and Morne Steyn shared the other points from the kicking tee, with Carter grateful for Dagg's late try after missing a penalty and conversion in the dying minutes.
Carter opened the scoring with a sweetly-struck penalty when Juan de Jongh was called up for a high tackle on Cory Jane, but the South African response was swift. A razor-sharp break from recalled fullback Gio Aplon opened a channel through midfield and with his pack flooding forward in support the All Blacks were pegged back and eventually penalised at a ruck.
Steyn landed a comfortable three points and picked off the lead soon after when All Black prop Ben Franks refused to roll away in the tackle. Each Springbok yard gained was greeted with a roar from the crowd, but the home side were handed a stark warning as Kieran Read, McCaw and Tom Donnelly combined along the shortside in a thrilling counter, their progress only checked by a foot in touch. Carter then spurned a chance to level the scores but a spell of pressure yielded a second, successful, effort after Steyn had undone a superb ball-and-all tackle from Aplon on Mils Muliaina with a charge in at the side.
The Springboks turned down their next shot at goal and upped the tempo with a quick tap, their willingness paying off as Burger was forced across the chalk from close range. The superb Juan Smith and wing Bryan Habana had fearlessly attacked the All Blacks' defence from close quarters and Burger's final surge was blunt yet mightily effective.
The All Blacks found the door slammed in their face time and again by the fired-up Springbok defence, whose commitment was vastly superior to their tame efforts on tour. Nevertheless, the visitors finally found their rhythm to strike back before the break and it was when they traded the centre-field slugfest for the open spaces out wide that their quality became apparent.
Their tight forwards rounded off the move with aplomb, Donnelly exploiting a simple two-on-one to send Woodcock cantering across the line unopposed. Carter bombed his conversion attempt to leave the Boks with a two-point lead at the break, a rest welcomed by referee Nigel Owens after he was accidentally flattened by All Black scrum-half Jimmy Cowan.
Steyn added his fourth penalty immediately after the restart as Woodcock was penalised for illegal scrummaging and with their lead taken out to five points the Boks settled in for several long spells in defence. Marshalled by Smith they were committed and a constant threat on the floor, with one of the biggest cheers of the day greeting a penalty against McCaw at the breakdown.
Piri Weepu, who was introduced in place of Cowan at the break, attempted to pick up the pace around the fringes and one moment of quick thinking put Carter into some precious space along the touchline. The fly-half dithered for a moment, while assessing his options, before taking on JP Pietersen for pace, missing out on a try by mere inches as the Springbok wing made up the ground.
The first Springbok maul of the game arrived on the hour mark and sucked in several All Black forwards. Read mindlessly came in at the side and gifted Steyn another three points, which took his side's lead out to eight for a short time. Carter added a penalty to keep the All Blacks within striking distance but the reward could have been more for the tourists after a deft Muliaina offload had almost put Jane over in the corner.
The Springboks finally caved in the closing minutes as the All Blacks took advantage of a moment of fortune. A conspicuously forward pass was missed by the officials before quick hands from Jane and Ma'a Nonu sent McCaw crashing over the line. Owens called for the TMO as the All Black flanker had flirted dangerously with the touchline. With replays appearing to show the ball hitting the try-line at the same moment his foot was grounded in touch, the try stood.
Carter missed the difficult conversion after an earlier penalty miss from bang in front, and the scores were tied at 22-22. A jubilant Dagg had just enough time to secure the final say, sprinting clear after a well-timed offload from a marauding Nonu to snatch victory and a well-deserved Tri-Nations title.