The All Blacks have completed an undefeated 2017 Rugby Championship campaign, but they were pushed to the brink by a valiant South African side in Cape Town.
The visitors prevailed 25-24 in one of the finest Test matches of recent years, taking 32 minutes to post the first try – a highly contentious effort awarded to Ryan Crotty, who appeared to knock-on over the line – after a number of earlier opportunities went begging.
Trailing 8-3 at the break, the Springboks snatched a 10-8 lead soon after the resumption through halfback Ross Cronje’s sneaky try, but they gifted New Zealand flyer Rieko Ioane a crucial 80-metre runaway try in the 60th minute via a loose pass.
The lead changed hands twice in the ensuing 10 minutes, South African replacement back Jean-Luc du Preez’s try negated by a sizzling 50-metre solo effort from All Blacks fullback Damian McKenzie.
New Zealand effectively sealed the result at 25-17 when Lima Sopoaga slotted a 77th-minute penalty goal – after Damian de Allende was farcically red-carded for a late and high challenge on the Highlanders flyhalf as he attempted a drop goal.
But the Springboks still managed to set up a grandstand finish, hooker Malcolm Marx rumbling over for a late try before the All Blacks closed it out in the dying seconds.
Though naturally disappointed at not coming away with the result, it was something of a moral victory for the South Africans after they suffered a humiliating 57-0 loss to the All Blacks at North Harbour last month, as well as a 57-14 drubbing when the teams met in the Republic during last season’s competition.