This brutal test against the Springboks at Ellis Park was going the same way as last year's defeat for the All Blacks until their courage and determination in defending their line with 14 men was rewarded with an extraordinary piece of luck.
With Sam Whitelock sinbinned due to a ruck offence deemed cynical by referee Jerome Garces, the All Blacks had to survive two scrums on their line with a numerical disadvantage against a South African team determined to increase their 20-17 lead.
The All Blacks did it, just, before Vincent Koch joined Jannie du Plessis on the sideline through injury, meaning the Boks didn't have a specialist tighthead prop, although loosehead Trevor Nyakane has started at tighthead this season.
According to World Rugby regulations, teams must name their loosehead and tighthead props before kick-off and if both players in a position are injured, scrums are no longer contested.
For an All Black team on their last legs on the high veld, it was manna from heaven.
But, after a sequence of events which severely disadvantaged his team, Boks coach Heyneke Meyer agreed with Garces' decision.
"I support his call as both our tightheads were injured and the law has to be followed, as it is there to protect the players," said Meyer.
With the All Blacks guaranteed their ball and able to clear their line, the pressure was eased. Whitelock returned and Richie McCaw's decision to spurn a late penalty kick in favour of an attacking lineout was repaid handsomely with a try from a well-worked move.
Job done, win secured, three brilliant tries scored, one victory from another Rugby Championship title.
It might look cut and dried on paper, but the All Blacks had to go to a new level against the Boks yesterday morning in order to avenge last year's thrilling defeat.
In reflecting on a test which saw a successful debut for No 10 Lima Sopoaga and injuries to key players Ma'a Nonu and Brodie Retallick, Steve Hansen praised his team's mental fortitude to fight back from a below-par first half and scoreboard disadvantage late in the game in a test his skipper McCaw called "pretty brutal".
In particular, Hansen paid credit to the determination to keep the Boks out as they went in for the kill. As he said, the All Blacks defended as if their lives depended on it.
"We missed a tackle on the South African line and ended up back on ours and we defended our hearts out," he said. "We showed a lot of courage. If they had scored then I think it would have been very difficult to come back from that. But we showed the mental fortitude and physical ability to keep getting up after making tackles, forced a turnover, and unfortunately one of their guys was injured."
Hansen added of the referee's decision to go to uncontestable scrums: "No one in the world has three tighthead props in their side so they had to go to golden oldie scrums. We were down to seven versus eight and that would have been a tough spot to get out of so I think that was a massive turning point."
Sopoaga, who missed two kicks at goal but kicked the important conversion for McCaw's try to push the margin out to four points and then nailed a penalty on fulltime, was expecting a baptism of fire and he got it.
However, after a frantic start he found his feet nicely and should be happy with his lot.
His run for Ben Smith's try was superb and he tackled his heart out too.
He called his experience "unbelievable", with backs coach Ian Foster saying: "To stay on for 80 minutes and to kick some important goals near the end - he'll learn a lot about how to control our game from today."
All Blacks 27