A drop goal by Elton Jantjies, a crucial turnover by Duane Vermeulen, a powerful rolling maul and a penalty after the final hooter by the replacement flyhalf secured the Springboks an epic 31-29 victory over the All Blacks on the Gold Coast on Saturday, in an heroic win that was a triumph for South Africa’s determination and belief.
In a gripping finale following a brilliant Springbok comeback that saw them overturn a nine-point deficit, the lead changed hands three times in the last four minutes.
Jantjies, who came on because wing Sbu Nkosi suffered a concussion and slotted in at flyhalf, with Handre Pollard moving to centre and Lukhanyo Am shifting out, made a telling impact and Springbok supporters can only wonder what could have been if he had played more.
Three New Zealand tries in the first 33 minutes saw them leading 20-11, but two penalties by Pollard either side of halftime cut the deficit to 17-20.
And it was another belated replacement who sparked the surge that took South Africa into the lead – Francois Steyn came out for the second half at fullback in place of a struggling Willie le Roux and produced a brilliant 50/22 kick that gave the Springboks a lineout deep in All Blacks territory.
A midfield ruck was then set up and Faf de Klerk’s skip pass to Jantjies saw the wizard’s slick hands give wing Makazole Mapimpi the space to go over in the corner.
Jantjies then kicked a 58th-minute penalty to stretch their lead to 25-20, before fullback Jordie Barrett slotted two penalties to put New Zealand back in front.
From the restart though, Steven Kitshoff bossed the collision and Jantjies snatched the lead back with a fine 48-metre drop goal.
But then the All Blacks used a short restart to gain a penalty by Barrett.
South Africa then conceded a scrum due to a short restart but, as New Zealand tried to carry for the last minute, Vermeulen pulled off a crucial turnover, allowing the Springboks to set the lineout inside the 22. The rolling maul made significant ground and a half-break by Pollard then saw the All Blacks go offsides at the next phase, Jantjies slotting the matchwinning kick.
The match started in tremendous fashion for the Springboks as a moment of sheer magic by Am, with a behind-the-back reverse-flip to Nkosi, set up Damian de Allende for the opening try.
They continued to create opportunities with a more balanced style of rugby, balancing their strong kicking game with some great use of ball-in-hand. But the All Blacks were more clinical and at 20-11 up after their third try, they looked to be heading to victory.
But then came the superb fightback and the reactions of veterans like Steyn, Jantjies, captain Siya Kolisi and Bongi Mbonambi showed just how much this win meant after a torrid Rugby Championship.
New Zealand – Tries: Sevu Reece, Ardie Savea, Brad Weber. Conversion: Jordie Barrett. Penalties: Barrett (4).
South Africa – Tries: Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi. Penalties: Handre Pollard (4), Elton Jantjies (2). Drop-goal Jantjies.