Mealamu try sinks the Boks
The All Blacks constructed a late try for hooker Keven Mealamu to snatch a 31-27 victory over the Springboks in their Tri-Nations rugby test played in Dunedin on Saturday.
Click here for our live text commentary.
The Springboks put up a brave, never-say-die performance to be leading 27-24 with just five minutes left to play but the All Blacks were up to the pressure as they mounted a strong drive from a lineout that resulted in the chunky Mealamu being blasted over the line.
The try not only won the game for the All Blacks but set them up to win the 2005 Tri-Nations by beating Australia in the final match in Auckland next Saturday. After Saturday’s test the Springboks were on top of the log with 13 points with the All Blacks on 10, but playing at home the New Zealanders will be massive favourites to down the injury-stricken Wallabies.
The irony for John Smit and his Boks is that whereas they won the 2004 Tri-Nations with just two wins they could end up second this year in spite of having won three times – the bonus points the All Blacks gained at Newlands and for scoring four tries on Saturday making the crucial difference.
Unlike some previous times at Carisbrook the Boks could leave the field with their heads held high in spite of failing to break the hoodoo of never having won a test match in Dunedin.
The Boks conceded three early tries to trail 10-21 after 30 minutes but showed impressive resolve to claw their way back into the match and take the lead.
Equally, though, credit must go to the All Blacks for the manner in which they were able to gather their resources to snatch a result that was getting away from them.
In the final analysis the Springboks were left to rue the errors that gave the All Blacks their first three tries.
Joe Rokocoko scored the match opener after a kick by Andre Pretorius was charged and the ball ricocheted straight to him; Leon MacDonald got over after Percy Montgomery failed to field a high kick and Rokocoko beat no fewer than four tackles to score his second – although it must be said that the Boks were caught napping after French referee Joel Jutge failed to pick up that MacDonald had lost the ball forward before it was snatched up by the powerful winger.
It could be argued that the Boks continued to play too little constructive rugby but their physical commitment in all the confrontations had the All Blacks rattled and they were again able to capitalize on the half-chances caused by the pressure they were putting on their opponents.
Bryan Habana raced away for a characteristic try in the ninth minute when the ball squirted out of a ruck and Ricky Januarie pulled them right back into the game with an opportunistic try shortly before halftime.
The game little scrumhalf who has been such a revelation since Jake White brought him into the side chased hard at Leon MacDonald to charge down an attempted clearance kick and then deftly gathered up the ball to dive over the line.
It had seemed the All Blacks were heading for a comfortable victory, especially as they were having the better of the forward exchanges, but Januarie’s moment of magic made it 21-17 at the break and put an entirely different complexion on the game.
An exchange of penalties between Montgomery and MacDonald made it 24-20 to the All Blacks, but the New Zealanders were being harried into making numerous handling errors to allow the Springboks to control position and possession through set pieces and a sense of panic seemed to set in.
The All Blacks lacked their usual fluency in setting the phases and Ricky Januarie punished them by grabbing a back-pass from Jerry Collins and running strongly towards their posts. The scrumhalf was overhauled by Rokocoko but was able to unload to Jaque Fourie who crossed at the posts.
Percy Montgomery converted to put the Boks in front (27-24) and a deathly hush settled on the House of Pain as a famous victory beckoned for John Smit and his men.
Jaco van der Westhuyzen, who had replaced Andre Pretorius just before halftime did an excellent job of keeping the All Blacks pinned in their half but a clever reverse chip-kick into space by Luke McAlister, who had come on for flyhalf Leon MacDonald, had the Boks at sixes and sevens. Jean de Villiers was unable to gain control of the ball and it meant the All Blacks had won a bridgehead right on the South Africans’ line.
Ritchie McCaw was driven over, but was ruled to have lost the ball, Ricky Januarie got away with a knock-on at the base of a Bok scrum and when Van der Westhuyzen was able to scramble the ball into touch near the 22m line it seemed the Boks might have survived the crisis.
The All Blacks however revealed the spirit and class that has made the world’s No1 side as they piled into the Boks after winning the ball in the lineout and the drive was so forceful that Mealamu was able to come off the back at great pace and barrel his way over the line.
McAlister added the conversion and yet again the Boks had come so near, and yet so far, from scoring the victory in New Zealand that they so desperately want.
New Zealand 31: Tries by Joe Rokocoko (4 min), Leon MacDonald (22 min), Rokocoko (28 min) and Keven Mealamu (84 min). MacDonald kicked three conversions and a penalty and Luke McAlister a conversion.
South Africa 27: Tries by Bryan Habana (9 min), Ricky Januarie (43 min) and Jaque Fourie (71 min). Percy Montgomery kicked two penalties and three conversions.