New Zealand 27
South Africa 20
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has singled out the 'mental fortitude' displayed by Brodie Retallick as one of they key factors in New Zealand's win over South Africa at Ellis Park in
Johannesburg this morning.
The All Blacks survived the second-half sinbinning of lock Sam Whitelock to overtake the home side thanks to a converted try to skipper Richie McCaw from a brilliant lineout move in the final minutes.
And Lima Sopoaga, who was very good on debut in the No10 jersey, had the final say when kicking a penalty on fulltime to push the margin to seven points.
Retallick injured his ankle in the pre-match warm up but pushed through the pain barrier to produce an impressive display.
"He assured us he was ok but I think it's a testament to his courage and his mental fortitude and toughness that he actually got through the game," Hansen said.
"He got another belt on it in the far corner and re-taped it, so he should be pretty proud of himself and we're very proud of him."
It was a deserved victory for the All Blacks, who were under immense pressure from the Boks at times and had to also fight back in the first half to get on to even terms after Willie Le Roux's early try. They did so through Ben Smith, who finished off a counter-attack sparked by a scorching run up the middle by Sopoaga, the Highlanders player passing over the top to Smith.
Steve Hansen's men battled at the breakdown in the first half against the recalled Heinrich Brussouw and new skipper Schalk Burger but had the edge after the break.
Dane Coles scored a stunning try, coming back on the angle to a superb Malakai Fekitoa pass, in response to a similar score by impressive Boks centre Jesse Kriel.
Penalties from Handre Pollard kept the Boks ahead of the game, but the All Blacks clawed their way back in terms of possession and territory and showed impressive mental and physical strength to finish well on top.
"At halftime we didn't deserved to be in the game, we played poorly and were dominated, but in the second half we showed a lot of character and fortitude," Hansen told Sky television afterwards.
The test between what are clearly the two best sides in the world didn't have the polish of the last two between the All Blacks and Boks at Ellis Park but the consistently ferocious defence and the speed the game was played at will hold Hansen's men in good stead heading into the World Cup. The two teams are on track to meet in a semifinal and today's win could prove to be an important mental boost.
Left wing Charles Piutau was a standout, with Brodie Retallick and Whitelock, on for James Broadhurst at halftime, making the most of their chances. Whitelock was yellow carded for a ruck offence, the All Blacks surviving a couple of big scrums on their line to get out of danger and then getting an unexpected bonus of uncontested scrums for the rest of the match due to a lack of front row specialists among the Boks.
Fekitoa, on for Ma'a Nonu, was a handful and laid on the perfect pass for Coles' try.
And then there was Sopoaga, who repaid Hansen's bold call with a mature performance despite the frantic nature of the match.
"He showed a lot of character for a young man," said Hansen. "He missed a couple [of kicks] there but came back and kicked the important ones."
Hansen said of the lineout move which saw McCaw take the ball uncontested near the front of the lineout and crash over: "We practised it all week. It was just a variation of an old song, really, and it was good enough to get us home."
Hansen said the difference between winning and losing was the couple of minutes the All Blacks spent defending their try line in the second half.
"We missed a tackle on the South African goal line and they ended up back on ours and we defended our hearts out and showed a lot of courage. If they had scored then it would have been very difficult to come back but we showed the mental fortitude and the physical ability to keep getting up and making tackles and forced a turnover.
McCaw noted how he believed his troops stepped up their performance in the second half after a below-par first 40.
"I think we were on the back foot for the first 40 - we had a good look at ourselves at half time. We were probably pretty lucky to get a try on halftime, and it got us back in the game.
"Towards the end of the game we got on top, but it was pretty brutal."
All Blacks 27 (Ben Smith, Dane Coles, Richie McCaw tries; Lima Sopoaga 3 cons, 2 pens
South Africa 20 (Willie Le Roux, Jesse Kriel tries; Handre Pollard 2 cons, 2 pens)