If there was a feeling that South Africa snatched victory in Wellington last month, New Zealand wreaked revenge at Loftus Versfeld with a stunning heist.
Their thrilling comeback was capped by two excellent kicks from replacement fly-half Richie Mo’unga in the dying moments. First, a touch-finder following a breakdown penalty gave the All Blacks a lineout five metres from the try-line.
Then, after Ardie Savea had burrowed over, a nerveless Mo’unga waited until the clock had crept past 80 minutes before splitting the posts to convert the try and kill an epic game.
His team did not lead at any point before that last strike. Indeed, when Damian de Allende carved under the posts in the 52nd minute, the Springboks were 23-6 in front. With four minutes to go, Steve Hansen’s men were staring down the barrel at 30-18 behind. And the hosts deserved that advantage.
The last time South Africa recorded consecutive wins over New Zealand was 2009. That was a vintage Springbok crop, reigning world champions who had also ousted the touring British and Irish Lions weeks previously. Although Rassie Erasmus’ team is much greener, they produced a mean performance.
Directed by Faf de Klerk, their forwards were superb. Hooker Malcom Marx and flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit bullied New Zealand, who seemed jaded and conceded five penalties in the opening 15 minutes. Handre Pollard kicked two of them, yet the visitors somehow stayed in touch and half-time arrived with the score tied at 6-6 thanks to a pair of Beauden Barrett penalties.
South Africa exploded into life in the second period. Jesse Kriel scythed through on the back of Willie le Roux’s midfield break. De Allende latched onto a lovely offload from Siya Kolisi. Aaron Smith replied after gathering Codie Taylor’s dubious pass but Cheslin Kolbe wriggled over close to the right touchline and Pollard converted to keep New Zealand at bay.
Mo’unga, who replaced Waisake Naholo and shifted Beauden Barrett to full-back, brought greater control and precise distribution. Still, even when 21 year-old Rieko Ioane landed his 21st international try in his 20th international, South Africa appeared to have enough.
But you can never be sure against New Zealand. A last-gasp tackle from Anton Lienert-Brown on Pollard and Savea’s turnover confounded the Springboks.
Scott Barrett scored with four minutes remaining to give New Zealand a sniff. That was all they needed.
“We let it go at the end,” admitted Kolisi afterwards. “ We knew it would be tough but they were more alert than us.”
Mo’unga orchestrated the Crusaders’ Super Rugby title and was just as assured in a manic finale. With less than a year until the Rugby World Cup, Hansen now knows his true value.
“South Africa were able to put a lot of pressure on us through set piece and it’s hard to get solutions while we’re out there,” Mo’unga said. “To come back like that takes a lot of courage.”
Both teams break before travelling to the northern hemisphere. On the back of two compelling tussles, ending with an aggregate tally tied at 66-66, they will be a handful.
Just amazing. How do the All Blacks do it time and again.— Ben Coles (@bencoles_) October 6, 2018
Conversion, Richie Mo'unga! South Africa 30-32 New Zealand, full-time!
...he can! And that's it! What a comeback, what a Test, what nerve from Mo'unga.
Try, Ardie Savea! South Africa 30-30 New Zealand, 79 minutes
Stunning. Another set of pick and gos and another try. Now, can Richie Mo'unga convert?
South Africa 30-25 New Zealand, 77 minutes
New Zealand win a breakdown penalty and kick to within five metres! This would be so, so cruel for South Africa...
Try, Scott Barrett! South Africa 30-25 New Zealand, 76 minutes
The All Blacks hammer away and Barrett junior is over! Mo'unga converts. Five-point game.
South Africa 30-18 New Zealand, 73 minutes
Pieter-Steph du Toit and Bongi Mbonambi are penalised for lifting in the tackle. New Zealand go to the corner.
South Africa 30-18 New Zealand, 72 minutes
Marx and De Klerk come off. We're starting again with a New Zealand scrum.
South Africa 30-18 New Zealand, 70 minutes
Penalty to New Zealand around halfway as Aphiwe Dyantyi knocks down a pass from Crotty. Mo'unga goes to touch...lineout stolen!
South Africa 30-18 New Zealand, 68 minutes
Amazing passage of rugby. Ardie Savea comes up with a last-gasp turnover and Ioane runs it out of the New Zealand 22. Barretts clears but Damian Willemse sashays through. New Zealand get back and win a penalty. All the while, referee Angus Gardner seems to be pretty hurt. He's grunting into his microphone.
At the age of 21
South Africa 30-18 New Zealand, 65 minutes
Willie le Roux makes way for an HIA. Anton Lienert-Brown is on for Sonny Bill Williams as well. That's a big moment. South Africa thread through a grubber, Barrett fields it but swings a pass across his own posts...and it's called forward!
Try, Rieko Ioane! South Africa 30-18 New Zealand, 63 minutes
Killer pass from Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett feeds Ioane. Mo'unga's conversion fades across the front of the posts. New Zealand's deficit is 13 points. About 16 minutes remain.
South Africa 30-13 New Zealand, 61 minutes
This is not over. New Zealand win a scrum penalty and go to the corner...
Try, Cheslin Kolbe! South Africa 30-13 New Zealand, 59 minutes
Huge decision. Kolbe was freed on the right by Le Roux and hit by Beauden Barrett. He span back in-field and reached out after being hit by Ioane. Television match official Graeme Hughes says there is nothing wrong with the grounding and the try is given!
Pollard bangs over the touchline conversion, too!
Has Cheslin Kolbe scored?! We're having a look.
South Africa 23-13 New Zealand, 56 minutes
This is a fabulous Test match. Eben Etzebeth nabs a New Zealand lineout and the ball is spread to Dyantyi, who grubbers through with his left foot.
The foot-race between Barrett and Dyantyi is electric and the New Zealander just wins it. He carries over and dots down. Five-metre scrum to South Africa.
Try, Aaron Smith! South Africa 23-13 New Zealand, 53 minutes
That's why they're world champions. Beauden Barrett, who has moved to full-back, fields a kick from South Africa. Codie Taylor burrows through the ruck and feeds Smith, who scurries home. Was the last past forward? The television match official is happy.
Mo'unga converts. This is going to the wire.
Try, Damian de Allende! South Africa 23-6 New Zealand, 50 minutes
Wow. Wow. Richie Mo'unga is on for New Zealand but does not find touch from a clearance and South Africa storm back through Kolisi, who offloads to De Allende and the try looks so easy! Pollard converts and South Africa have a 17-point cushion.
South Africa 16-6 New Zealand, 48 minutes
Kieran Read ships a penalty for colliding with Franco Mostert in the air at a lineout. Kriel crosses the 22 and Du Toit charges through. he's within a metre...but no! De Klerk spins a pass to nobody! Well, it hits the cameraman beyond the touchline.
Penalty, Handre Pollard! South Africa 16-6 New Zealand, 48 minutes
...what a kick!
South Africa 13-6 New Zealand, 45 minutes
Le Roux and Kriel combine again, this time with the former tackling Ioane and the latter swooping to win a breakdown penalty. Pollard is going for goal...
No woes from the tee this time...
Yet another poor Barrett tactical kick. This time it gets punished. #RSAvNZL— Paul Cully (@paulcullystuff) October 6, 2018
South Africa 13-6 New Zealand, 45 minutes
Three changes from New Zealand. Both props come off and Patrick Tuipulotu replaces Shannon Frizell.
Try, Jesse Kriel! South Africa 13-6 New Zealand, 44 minutes
That man Le Roux sparks the score, stepping through New Zealand's passive midfield. The Springboks move it left and Kriel shrugs off another tackle to dive over.
Pollard splits the posts to a massive roar on his home ground.
South Africa 6-6 New Zealand, 43 minutes
South Africa lose their lineout but they're coming back here...
South Africa 6-6 New Zealand, 41 minutes
Early statement from South Africa. Malcolm Marx wins a penalty for holding on. He's so difficult to shift when he clamps onto the ball.
Confirmation that Ardie Savea will be staying on and Sam Cane will not return.
There have been some impressive displays in either pack, but Faf de Klerk is enjoying himself again. What a player.
Half-time | South Africa 6-6 New Zealand
A scare for the All Blacks on the stroke of half-time as South Africa's forwards eke out a maul turnover. Kolisi and De Klerk try their luck but the ball goes loose on the floor and Aaron Smith boots into touch. Gardner brings a fascinating first 40 to a close.
South Africa 6-6 New Zealand, 39 minutes
Big defensive stand from New Zealand, which ends when Cheslin Kolbe is muscled into touch by Ioane.
South Africa 6-6 New Zealand, 38 minutes
The hosts build with some bright phase-play. They're up to the edge of New Zealand's 22...
Penalty, Beauden Barrett! South Africa 6-6 New Zealand, 36 minutes
Another excellent strike.
South Africa 6-3 New Zealand, 35 minutes
Francois Louw overbalances and falls through the breakdown to give New Zealand a penalty. Beauden Barrett tries a speculative drop-goal...which falls short and wide.
Sam Cane is helped off, which is a blow for New Zealand as he'd been excellent.
Kolisi has carried well in this first half.
South Africa 6-3 New Zealand, 33 minutes
Frustrating few seconds for Dyantyi, who drops a high ball to give New Zealand a scrum. South Africa's shove is early...free-kick. They take another scrum.
South Africa 6-3 New Zealand, 30 minutes
Half an hour gone and Marx spills as South Africa look to launch something from halfway. The hosts get another chance when Barrett kicks the ball away, though...and Dyantyi is just nudged into touch by Naholo.
South Africa 6-3 New Zealand, 28 minutes
New Zealand tear off the lineout and to close range but Gardner denies Aaron Smith a penalty when the scrum-half throws the ball into a retreating Pieter-Steph du Toit. South Africa win a breakdown penalty and clear.
South Africa 6-3 New Zealand, 26 minutes
Another All Blacks penalty, and that's all Aaron Smith. He hoists a box-kick and New Zealand swarm Le Roux. Cane and Crotty are over the ball, Aaron Smith compels Gardner to blow the whistle...and he does.
Penalty, Beauden Barrett! South Africa 6-3 New Zealand, 25 minutes
Fine kick from Barrett.
South Africa 6-0 New Zealand, 23 minutes
Nice from South Africa. Le Roux climbs to take Pollard's up-and-under before De Allende finds space in behind Ioane.
However, Etzebeth piles into the ruck illegally and South Africa concede the penalty. New Zealand go to touch...and Etzebeth ships another infringement. Barrett will go for the posts from around 50 metres - 49.7 to be precise.
South Africa 6-0 New Zealand, 21 minutes
Scott Barrett pressurises the throw of Marx....which skews off the straight. Scrum to New Zealand.
Inauspicious All Blacks
After 15 mins - NZ 2 passes, 3 runs for 6m, 5 penalties conceded.— Russ Petty (@rpetty80) October 6, 2018
South Africa 6-0 New Zealand, 20 minutes
Mistake from Beauden Barrett, who clips a cross-field kick-pass towards Rieko Ioane out on the full. From the lineout, both teams exchanges turnovers.
Same Cane wins one for New Zealand before Malcolm Marx snaffles back possession. Faf de Klerk box-kicks into touch via a couple of bounces...but New Zealand take a quick lineout and Aaron Smith clears.
South Africa 6-0 New Zealand, 17 minutes
Scrum to New Zealand after Aphiwe Dyantyi spilled Faf de Klerk's box-kick. A re-set is needed...and then New Zealand spill in midfield - Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty get mixed up. Kolisi hacks through but the ball goes dead and then South Africa knock-on a couple of phases after the 22 drop-out.
Penalty, Handre Pollard! South Africa 6-0 New Zealand, 13 minutes
Easy for Pollard.
South Africa 3-0 New Zealand, 12 minutes
So close for South Africa! A strong maul rumbled to within a couple of metres. Kolisi and Damian de Allende very nearly stretch over...but we come back for another penalty.
South Africa 3-0 New Zealand, 11 minutes
First flashpoint! That's pretty dull from Scott Barrett, who ships a penalty for a dangerous clear-out on Eztebeth. There are some handbags between Waisake Naholo and Faf de Klerk afterwards but we come back for a penalty for the Springboks, who go to the corner!
Pre-match action, strictly speaking.
South Africa 3-0 New Zealand, 9 minutes
Slightly scrappy from South Africa but Le Roux drops into that second-receiver pocket and dinks into touch. Eben Etzebeth concedes a free-kick for closing the gap from the lineout but South Africa will throw in when Beauden Barrett hits touch.
South Africa 3-0 New Zealand, 6 minutes
Fantastic from Faf de Klerk. He steals around the base of the scrum and forces a mistake from Aaron Smith. New Zealand get offside from the knock-on. Penalty to South Africa and they clear to touch.
South Africa 3-0 New Zealand, 5 minutes
Springboks spill a couple of phases after the restart. New Zealand's attack comes to nothing but they are lucky - referee Gardner calls no advantage and brings back play for a scrum on the edge of South Africa's 22.
Penalty, Handre Pollard! South Africa 3-0 New Zealand, 4 minutes
Anticipation around the world
All Blacks v Springboks on the high veldt are the best games in rugby. Absolutely love them.— Benji Crossley (@bopman1) October 6, 2018
The scrum belongs to South Africa by the way, not New Zealand. And the hosts now have a penalty advantage for offside...it was Kieran Read. Handre Pollard says: "I'll take a shot" to referee Gardner.
South Africa 0-0 New Zealand, 1 minute
Willie le Roux climbs to take Aaron Smith's box-kick and there are early carries for Steven Kitshoff and Francois Louw. Le Roux tries a grubber through but Malcolm Marx spills. The first scrum will be New Zealand's.
Rassie Erasmus blows a kiss to someone from the coach's box, Handre Pollard strikes the kick-off and we are underway!
TJ Perenara leads a Kapa o Pango. No surprise there.
South Africa's supporters sing LOUDLY during the haka. What an atmosphere.
Stirring anthems with plenty of emotion from both sets of players. Huge volume as South Africa's reached its chorus. Tears streaming down Siya Kolisi's face. Wow.
It's loud at Loftus. Anthems now.
New Zealand file out first of all behind skipper Kieran Read. Then comes Willie le Roux to commemorate his 50th cap. And then, to a huge roar, the rest of the Springboks arrive.
The referee today is Angus Gardner from Australia. He's brought together the front-rowers from both sides in the changing rooms before kick-off. Here he is with New Zealand.
Rassie Erasmus pre-match
"I know we'll pitch up today and hopefully we pull through.
"A lot of it is mental, believing we can win. I think we'll see a close one."
Steve Hansen pre-match
There isn't any such thing as a dead rubber against South Africa, says New Zealand's head coach. Admits that the All Blacks didn't help themselves in Wellington but he wouldn't want to take any credit away from the Springboks.
Nice prediction: "These games are always brutal. I'm picking this one to be brutal too."
Half an hour until kick-off
Conditions are nice in Pretoria. It looks warm and dry. No doubt we'll see tries again.
New Zealand have already sewn up the Rugby Championship, helped by South Africa's defeat to Australia in what was a dire game at the start of September.
This is how the top 10 of World Rugby's rankings look before kick-off.
A couple of weeks ago we took a closer look at how South Africa managed to get over the line in Wellington. Spoiler: Faf de Klerk was fantastic.
One hour to kick-off
And as soon as I type out (copy and paste) the teams, there is a change.
UPDATE: All Blacks midfielder Jack Goodhue has been ruled out of today’s Test against South Africa with illness. Ryan Crotty will now start in the 13 jersey. Anton Lienert-Brown comes onto the bench in the 23 jersey. #RSAvNZLpic.twitter.com/ziBnR5vwse— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 6, 2018
Here we go then. This one could be a special afternoon. South Africa's rivalry with New Zealand is compelling enough in isolation, but today we have the extra spicy – and increasingly rare – subplot of the All Blacks wanting to wreak revenge.
The Springboks' 36-34 win in Wellington last month was a truly thrilling encounter. New Zealand fly-half Beauden Barrett, the back-to-back reigning World Rugby player of the year no less, spurned numerous opportunities from the tee.
Rassie Erasmus' team were gifted a couple of tries as well, one after an inexplicable quick lineout throw from Jordie Barrett that was picked off by Willie le Roux.
Steve Hansen's press conferences are always interesting these days, and the New Zealand head coach has opened up on what he believes has boosted South Africa in recent months:
"I don't see it changing too much from Wellington; they'll be in our face, they'll be passionate and they'll go the whole 80 and there's going to be quite a lot of pain from the lung point of view I suggest for both sides.
"For a long time I think they have been a good side without having that self-belief, I think they're starting to get it which makes them really dangerous."
That self-belief of South Africa would undoubtedly have been boosted by the series win over England in June. Consecutive wins over the All Blacks would enhance it yet further. Here are the teams, by the way:
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 1 Steven Kitshoff, 2 Malcolm Marx, 3 Frans Malherbe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8 Francois Louw.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith; 1 Karl Tu'inukuafe, 2 Codie Taylor, 3 Owen Franks, 4 Sam Whitelock, 5 Scott Barrett, 6 Shannon Frizell, 7 Sam Cane, 8 Kieran Read (captain).
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Richie Mo'unga, 23 Ryan Crotty.