South Africa 18-5 New Zealand, Port Elizabeth, August 20
Steyn boots Boks to victory
August 20, 2011
South Africa's Heinrich Brussow gets to grips with New Zealand's Adam Thomson during the clash in Port Elizabeth
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South Africa snapped a three-game losing streak with a hard-fought 18-5 victory over New Zealand in their Tri-Nations clash at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
Fly-half Morne Steyn landed five penalties and a drop goal to put a resurgent Springboks side back on track ahead of their defence of the Rugby World Cup crown next month. A superb defensive display and a dominant scrum laid the foundation for a deserved victory that prevented South Africa's first whitewash in the competition.
The All Blacks were guilty of failing to make the most of their opportunities having dominated for much of the opening period with a late try from Richard Kahui the only reward for an understrength side. But they can still retain the Tri-Nations crown with victory over Australia in the title-decider in Brisbane next weekend.
New Zealand made a lively start with fullback Israel Dagg ghosting through the Springboks' defensive line with ease before feeding Jimmy Cowan who was denied a try by a great tackle from winger Bryan Habana in a precursor for what was to be a valiant display from the home side.
The visitors were soon threatening again with a dink through from fly-half Colin Slade and a sublime off load from centre Sonny Bill Williams taking them deep into the Springboks' 22 but the hosts managed to scramble the ball away.
Instead it was the Springboks who opened the scoring with Steyn giving his side the lead from the kicking tee after his forwards had laid down an early marker at the breakdown. Tempers then flared at the next scrum as the Boks claimed another minor victory and referee George Clancy issued a warning to a fired-up Bakkies Botha as Steyn lined up what would be his second successful long-range penalty.
The All Blacks enjoyed their fair share of success on the gain line and backed themselves to turn the game around by kicking the next penalty to the corner for a lineout. Kahui and winger Isaia Toeava were amongst those who hammered away at the Boks' defence but they were frustrated at every turn and a penalty against flanker Adam Thomson brought a premature end to the attack.
Thomson was penalised again moments later and his eagerness to get his hands on the ball allowed Steyn to edge his side further ahead as a breathless opening period reached the half-way mark. Slade, making only his second start for the All Blacks, was handed the chance to reduce the arrears soon after thanks largely to the endeavour of his forwards but his kick drifted wide.
The All Blacks continued to pepper the Springboks' defence with Toeava the next to make big gains into the 22. The ball was recycled to Slade whose pass found Dagg on the angle but the fullback lost the ball in contact and the danger was cleared.
The ferocity of the Springboks' defence continued to earn them reward with the combined efforts of centre Jaque Fourie and Botha earning a penalty that Steyn opted to kick to the corner. No.8 Pierre Spies claimed the subsequent lineout and an impressive driving maul took them close before All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock's wayward hands gifted three more points to Steyn.
The Springboks grew in confidence as the half wore on and enjoyed a greater share of territory and possession - a fact that was hammered home by a Steyn drop goal just past the half hour.
But back came the All Blacks. A solid lineout provided a great attacking platform and a slick inside pass from Sonny Bill Williams found winger Hosea Gear at pace and he off-loaded to Kahui who showed great speed and strength to get over the line. Slade was unable to add the extras as his poor day with the boot continued.
The Boks ended the half on the front foot with their superior aggression taking them within range once again but this time Steyn's drop goal effort fell the wrong side of the posts.
There was no let up in the intensity following the re-start with a crunching tackle from Kahui on Boks scrum-half Fourie du Preez just one of several bruising exchanges. The All Blacks rode that momentum and looked to have clawed their way back into the game a few minutes later only to be denied by a controversial decision from the officials.
The lively Dagg conjured a break out of nothing to exploit some space and looked set to score in the corner before replacement fullback Francois Hougaard hauled him down just short of the line. Dagg still managed to get the ball away to Cowan who crashed over the line with Clancy opting to ask the Television Match Official, Johan Meuwesen, for clarification.
Clancy asked if it was a try - 'yes or no' - and Meuwesen confirmed there was nothing wrong with the grounding before swiftly offering 'more information from before the goal line' in a clear break from protocol. Clancy accepted the offer of further input at which point Meuwesen told him there had been a forward pass in the build-up with the try subsequently ruled out.
The ball saw more air time as the gruelling nature of the game began to take its toll but the Springboks still had enough in the tank to outmuscle the All Blacks at another scrum on the hour mark. That impressive effort drew the latest penalty and Steyn wasted no time in adding to his personal tally.
The All Blacks refused to accept defeat and a burst of speed and a great step from Toeava took him clear and had the Boks scrambling in defence. Replacement Andy Ellis and Sonny Bill Williams then attempted to force an opening but they found no way through with the outstanding Heinrich Brussow snuffing out the danger with a trademark steal in the shadow of his own posts.
Replacement fly-half Piri Weepu added a little urgency to proceedings for the All Blacks and he and Sonny Bill Williams helped carve the next opening for Toeava but another chance slipped away as he lost the ball in contact. Dagg was the next to spill the ball under pressure as the All Blacks chased the game but it was a familiar story with an engulfing tackle by Habana on Ellis all but ending their hopes of a late turnaround.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.