Weepu drives All Blacks to glory
South Africa 22
New Zealand 29
So, did the All Blacks get out of jail in Johannesburg?
Behind for 77 minutes of a compelling Test match and at times smashed back by the Springboks' immense physicality and terrific defence, were they lucky to turn the game on its head with two tries in the last three minutes?
Not in my book. This match wasn't won in front of 94,000 delirious South African fans who thought they had the old Kiwi skewered and on the braai midway through the second half when the Boks led 22-14.
It was won last year in the northern hemisphere and earlier this year when the Tri Nations began. As someone once said, you triumphed the moment you decided to become someone.
In other words, when the All Blacks management decided that they were going to go for bust; that they were set on ending the ghastly aerial ping pong that afflicted the game last year like some 15th century plague.
If you disagree, ask yourself this. Why did the Boks' defence finally crack twice in the final three minutes to lose both the Test and their Tri Nations crown?
They cracked because they had spent the previous 60 minutes being exhausted by a side that insisted it kept the ball in hand, continued to run the ball rather than just resorting to aimless kicks when tired bodies (especially at altitude) were screaming for relief.
New Zealand won because they persevered with their philosophy of attacking rugby. They moved the ball incessantly in those final 20 minutes, invigorated no end by the arrival of Piri Weepu shortly after half-time to replace the ineffective Jimmy Cowan.
Weepu lit the blue touch paper for his side. He probed, stepped, peered into the Boks' defence to find a smidgeon of space and light. And in the end, he found a way to unlock what was a wonderfully brave, committed and courageous South African rearguard action.
New Zealand won despite being nowhere near as efficient as in Wellington, Melbourne and Christchurch, not to mention Auckland, which was the real high point of their season.
They trailed 16-14 at half-time and never led until the 79th minute, when Israel Dagg followed Richie McCaw's try moments earlier to seal victory.
The precision, control and execution of the All Blacks wasn't there this time because at last a side did something about their superiority at the breakdown. South Africa, chiefly through an extraordinary display of physicality that made you wince just watching, denied New Zealand that front-foot platform that had been the key to their previous triumphs. They also tackled heroically.
Schalk Burger was immense, Juan Smith likewise. New cap Francois Hougaard also contributed hugely.
McCaw, it has to be said, again got away with blue murder under the nose of the referee. How the Kiwi captain did not get yellow carded when he dived into the wrong side of a ruck a metre or two from the All Blacks' line early in the second half, when the South Africans were set to score had they been able to work the ball clear quickly, defied belief.
Nigel Owens saw it and did nothing, apart from lamely giving the penalty.For John Smit, it was a sad finish to his 100th Test. "I missed the tackle on (Ma'a Nonu) and we lost the game," Smit said. "We had the winning of that game. It was awful to lose like that."
All Blacks skipper McCaw said: "I am proud of the boys. Perhaps we played too much rugby in our half in the first half and mistakes put us under pressure. But we got our reward at the end for continuing to believe in our approach."
SOUTH AFRICA -- G Aplon; JP Pietersen, J De Jongh, J De Villiers, B Habana; M Steyn, F Hougaard (R Januarie 75); G Steenkamp, J Smit (capt), J Du Plessis (CJ van der Linde 62), F Van der Merwe (D Rossouw 69), V Matfield, S Burger, J Smith (F Louw 58), P Spies.
NEW ZEALAND -- M Muliaina; C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, J Rokocoko (I Dagg 57); D Carter, J Cowan (P Weepu 42); A Woodcock, K Mealamu, B Franks (J Afoa 62), B Thorn, T Donnelly (S Whitelock 49), J Kaino (V Vito 69), R McCaw (capt), K Read.
REF -- N Owens (Wales).