South Africa took another major step towards retaining their Tri-Nations crown when they secured a nailbiting win over New Zealand at a jam-packed Newlands on Saturday.
The Springboks stretched their unbeaten home record under coach Jake White to 14 matches, and have won both their Tri-Nations home games in the last fortnight to stand clear of their Southern Hemisphere rivals in the three-team competition.
They also have a claim to be close to the best side in the world right now, after beating both Australia and New Zealand in consecutive weeks.
White’s men also move into second in the IRB Rankings behind the All Blacks with this victory but now have to prove they can win away from home.
In short, it was their rush defence which rattled the All Blacks early on and limited their space throughout, leaving the New Zealanders to be only a shadow of the team that whitewashed the British & Irish Lions in their recent Test series.
Fly-half and kingpin Daniel Carter looked rattled at times, while the Bok forwards put in some major hits throughout to catch their opponents behind the advantage line time and time again.
In contrast, the Bok forwards were superb, with locks Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha troubling the All Blacks in the set phases and some strong tackling nullifying the threat of Jerry Collins as a runner.
In a game which was always going to be tight, it was the home side who first troubled the scoreboard when full-back Percy Montgomery put them ahead with an easy penalty in the second minute.
The Boks raced ahead to a 13-0 lead – leaving the All Blacks shellshocked – after a perfectly timed drop goal by Andre Pretorius and a sublime intercept by midfielder Jean de Villiers in his own 22 led to a long range try.
All Black winger Rico Gear had just scythed his way through the midfield, offloaded to Byron Kelleher, who popped the ball back into de Villiers’ hands and watched as the Bok midfielder sprinted 70 metres to score.
Montgomery added the extras but it was a short-lived scoreline as the All Blacks clawed their way back to level the scores before the half-hour was up.
Carter put them on the scoreboard when the Boks infringed in front of their own posts, before he picked up an aimless kick from Montgomery in the midfield, attacked left and the recycled ball was spun through two skip passes before Gear went over in the corner.
The Boks were caught offside close to their own line, and Carter levelled the scores for the last try of the match.
The hosts forced a penalty just before the half time whistle to go into the break 16-13 up and added another eight minutes into the second half when All Black flanker Richie McCaw was penalised for hands in the ruck.
Montgomery put the Boks 22-13 up when Tony Woodcock was disciplined for not binding in a scrum, and it looked as if the Boks were home and dry.
But the All Blacks put everything into the last 20 minutes, but were frustrated by the Bok defence and their own mistakes.
Carter managed another penalty to put them within striking range, but it was too little, and much too late.