McCaw's class settles thriller
South Africa 22
New Zealand 29
If this was a preview of next year's World Cup final, then bring it on.
A game of enormous physicality, immense commitment and relentless pace was decided in the final moments when All Blacks captain Richie McCaw squeezed into the right hand corner and substitute Israel Dagg scored almost straight from the re-start with just seconds left.
McCaw's foot was desperately close to going into touch but the borderline decision just went his way. Dan Carter could not convert the first but he did the second after Ma'a Nonu had broken away downfield.
The two late New Zealand tries broke South African hearts after a brave display.
For New Zealand, it meant the spoils of the Tri-Nations title. Yet for the South Africans, much needed belief that they can, after all, compete with the hitherto all-conquering All Blacks, albeit here with a 94,000 crowd hugely in their favour.
Springbok captain John Smit had celebrated his 100th cap with a not straight throw from his first line-out and being penalised at the second for delaying the throw.
But thankfully for Smit and coach Peter de Villiers, South Africa had other men able to rise massively to the challenge. Schalk Burger was everywhere in pursuit of the ball and the man, assisted significantly by Juan Smith.
After Morne Steyn and Dan Carter exchanged a brace of penalties, South Africa scored the first try when Burger smashed through Ma'a Nonu and Keven Mealamu to score. Steyn's kicking pushed the lead out to 16-9 before Tony Woodcock was worked over down the right.
It was 16-14 at half-time and that set up the pulsating final 40 minutes.
Morne Steyn's 5th penalty goal made it 19-14 yet even at altitude, it was the South Africans who began to ran out of puff in the final 10 minutes.
Carter made it 19-17 and missed the chance of another penalty. But the sudden, double late try burst settled it.
But the All Blacks were altogether less impressive when faced with so aggressive and physical a defence. They took more wrong options than in their first four Tri-Nations games this season.
This physicality offered the world a reminder that New Zealand can be knocked out of their measured stride, principally by overt strength and brutality. Yet their finish was exemplary.
In capped a great day for captain McCaw, who was leading the side for a record-eqiualing 51st time, drawing level with the mark set by legendary All Black hooker Sean Fitzpatrick.
Scorers -- South Africa: Try: Burger, Conversions: Steyn. Pen. Gls: Steyn (5)
New Zealand Tries: Woodcock, McCaw. Dagg; Con: Carter Pen. Gls: Carter (4)
South Africa: G Aplon; JP Pietersen, J De Jongh, J De Villiers, B Habana; M Steyn, F Hougaard (R Januarie 75 mins); G Steenkamp, J. Smit (Capt.), J Du Plessis (CJ van der Linde 62 mins), F Van der Merwe (D Rossouw 24-38 mins, blood, and 69 mins), V. Matfield, S. Burger, J. Smith (F Louw 58 mins), P Spies.
New Zealand: M Muliaina; C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, J Rokocoko (I Dagg 57 mins); D Carter, J Cowan (P Weepu 42 mins); A Woodcock, K Mealamu, B Franks (J Afoa 62 mins), B Thorn, T Donnelly (S Whitelock 49 mins), J Kaino (V Vito 69 mins), R McCaw (Capt.), K Read.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).