The Springboks traded heavily on the unerring boot of their fly half Morne Steyn to avert a Tri-Nations whitewash after they ran out 18-5 winners over the All Blacks at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.
Steyn rifled six kicks through the posts to account for all the side’s match winning points after he gave the Boks a 15-5 lead at halftime.
The morale-boosting win for the Springboks will do the side’s confidence a world of good ahead of the World Cup in New Zealand where the global showpiece kicks-off in three weeks’ time.
The All Blacks, who fielded a largely untried combination, enjoyed the distinction of scoring the only try of the match.
The Springbok defence appeared vulnerable out wide on the channel near the main grandstand touchline and early runs by New Zealand fullback Israel Dagg, centre Richard Kahui and wing Isaia Toeava often took play up to try line.
Desperate cover defence by wing Bryan Habana and centre Jacques Fourie avoided early disaster for the hosts.
The All Blacks’ first efforts were easily worth two tries in the opening six minutes, but it spoke volumes for the Springboks’ improved defence systems.
To add insult to injury for the visitors, their infringements close to the halfway and just inside their own territory were severely punished by Steyn, who imposed himself on the game with his prolific place-kicking ability.
After a mere 17 minutes into the game, and somewhat against the run of play, Steyn gave the Boks a 9-0 lead after he rifled three penalties through the post.
There was a strong response from the All Blacks who drove down the middle with a string of sorties from their pack, but the Springboks scrambled well to thwart their best efforts around their 22-metre area.
The All Blacks should have opened their score account at around this time but fly half Colin Slade hashed a goalable penalty from the Boks’ 10-metre line.
Soon afterwards, Bok fullback Patrick Lambie left the field, holding him arm with what looked like a shoulder injury.
He was replaced by Francois Hougaard, who moved on the rightwing with JP Peterson moving to fullback.
Fourie and Habana saw off the persistent All Blacks penetration by launching a counter-attack out wide down the left channel and the ploy helped to transfer play to the All Blacks’ 22-metre area.
With scrumhalf Fourie du Preez orchestrating the attacks from the base of the scrum, the Boks tried to batter their way past the All Blacks defence without success.
Instead, Steyn made their effort good with a 42nd minute penalty and a drop goal two minutes later to give the Boks a commanding 15-0 lead.
The All Blacks finally managed to open their account when they carried the ball strongly with fine back and forward inter-play.
Kahui exploited shoddy defence near the corner flag to corkscrew his way over for the first try of the match.
Slade missed the conversion (5-0).
On the stroke of halftime, Steyn was fractionally wide with another drop goal attempt.
Visitors left chasing
The regular advances on the scoreboard, courtesy of Steyn’s prolific boot, had clearly give the Boks’ play a lift and his early contributions meant that visitors were left chasing the game for most of the half.
Loose head prop Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira joined the fray at the start of the second half at the expense of Gurthro Steenkamp.
A spirited start by the All Blacks might have helped to reduce the deficit, but a try by scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan was disallowed after Dagg showed a fine turn of speed to catch the Bok defence napping out wide.
Hougaard’s cover defence stopped Dagg five metres from the try line.
The Boks made their let-off good with a relieving kicks to transfer play into the opposition half, where their pack were able to keep their side on the front foot — especially after one impressive maul on the All Blacks’ 10-metre line.
The Boks’ forwards pressure made its presence felt for once at a 59th minute scrum and Steyn exploited the advantage by goaling the resultant penalty (18-5).
The Springboks’ World Cup captain John Smit made an entry to a rousing welcome as a replacement for hooker Bismarck du Plessis on the hour and Slade made way for Piri Weepu, for the All Blacks at fly half.
With play restricted for a long passage of time around the halfway area, Toeava set off a strong cross-field run and the Boks defended well to thwart his supporting runners just short of the try line.
The Springboks finished strongly as play fluctuated from one end of the field to the other. — Sapa