Kiwi coach praises Bok defence
Port Elizabeth - South Africa's resolute defence was hailed as the difference between the teams after the Springboks beat the All Blacks 18-5 in a Tri-Nations Test at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium Saturday.
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In their final match before next month's World Cup, the defending champions' forwards, in particular, turned in a powerful performance against what was effectively a New Zealand second-string team.
"South Africa played with a lot of physicality and passion," said New Zealand coach Graham Henry.
"They scrambled in defence very well. We created probably six opportunities to score and only converted one of them. That was frustrating."
"I'll go to war with these guys," said Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, adding that South Africa's victory was a just reward despite the fact that all their points came from the boot of fly-half Morné Steyn, who landed all five penalty goal attempts as well as a drop goal.
New Zealand scored the only try of the match, through centre Richard Kahui, but several times were stopped almost within touching distance of the try-line as South Africa tackled ferociously.
In making his statement about going to war, De Villiers singled out stand-in captain Victor Matfield, who he said had played the last half hour of the match with an unspecified injury and flank Heinrich Brüssow, who had to leave the field with blood pouring from his face but returned 14 minutes later to turn in a man-of-the-match performance.
De Villiers also praised Steyn, who landed three long-range penalties to give South Africa a 9-0 lead after 18 minutes. They were killer blows at a time when the All Blacks were playing most of the attacking rugby and had three times threatened to score tries.
Steyn's place had seemed under threat after a mediocre season but, reunited with scrumhalf Fourie du Preez for the first time in a Test match since 2009, he turned in a commanding performance.
With South Africa leading 15-5 at half-time, he effectively shut the All Blacks out of the game with his tactical kicking in the second half.
De Villiers said he had never questioned Steyn's ability, despite playing Patrick Lambie and Butch James ahead of him in earlier Tri-Nations matches.
"Morné is a very good rugby player. He's still our number one. He knows now that he's very important to the team and he can take the team through the World Cup if he's on song."
Lambie, who started at full-back, was an injury concern for the Springboks, leaving the field with a shoulder injury after 20 minutes. De Villiers said he would wait for a report from his medical team before commenting on the injury.
Matfield started the game ahead of regular captain John Smit, who came on as a second-half replacement, and he said the Springboks had needed the win after losing their first three matches in the tournament.
"We felt the pressure and it wasn't easy. A lot of people were doubting us. This is great for the confidence."
But Matfield said his team still needed to work hard before the World Cup.
"There is still (room for) a lot of improvement. We want to get even better. We'll look at the video session and work on the detail."
New Zealand coach Graham Henry admitted the Springboks had outplayed his team but said he had no regrets about leaving nine of New Zealand's leading players at home to rest ahead of the World Cup.
"We made some big decisions some time ago and I'm happy with that. It gave some players the opportunity to play today. We had a look at the big picture and the future."
Henry said a lack of maturity and the patience to build attacking moves had hurt the All Blacks' chances, but fielding some fringe players had been a useful exercise ahead of the announcement of the World Cup squad on Tuesday.
Henry said the defeat would not shake New Zealand's belief in their attacking style of play.
"We created a lot of opportunities to do the business. The game that we are playing has got distinct possibilities."