South Africa denied New Zealand a vital bonus point but could not stop them recording a 35-17 Tri-Nations win at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.
Both sides scored two tries apiece but South Africa’s penchant for infringements cost them dearly as All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter landed seven penalty goals and two conversions to knock the Springboks out of the game.
Predictably, the South Africans found greater mettle against their traditional rival and while the fluidity was lacking from their play, it was a far more impressive performance than during their 49-0 loss to Australia a week earlier.
South Africa had a sensational start to the game when half-back Fourie du Preez charged down a clearance from Dan Carter and then touched down after only 17 seconds.
But that was the only real chance the Springboks had to score in the half, as the All Black defence held strong.
Referee Joel Jutge refused to put up with the Springboks’ continual infringements and Carter’s landing of four from four penalty goals had the All Blacks safely back in control.
Then, right on half-time, another piece of Carter magic set New Zealand up for their first try.
Carter fielded a failed clearing kick from Du Preez on the half-way line, beat a man and then fed centre Mils Muliaina on a break down the sideline.
Muliaina was collared just short of the line but got the ball infield to wing Scott Hamilton, and it was halfback Piri Weepu who charged in for the try, which Carter converted to give the All Blacks a 19-7 lead at the break.
South Africa struck back after the break following a piece of brilliant kicking by Du Preez found wing Breyton Paulse in space and he ran onto the ball to score. With Montgomery’s successful conversion the margin was back to 25-14.
The combination between Springbok number eight Jacques Cronje and halfback Du Preez was a decisive factor in the performance as they gelled superbly, even when the pack was on the back foot.
Had full-back Percy Montgomery been in better kicking form earlier, the pressure could have come on much sooner.
However, the All Blacks had the final say when skipper Richie McCaw scored to put the result beyond doubt.