Wellington -The All Blacks had a third successive Rugby Championship crown in their sights after beating South Africa 14-10 Saturday in a top-of-the-table clash involving the world's top ranked sides.
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In a dramatic closing 10 minutes, the All Blacks produced a heroic defensive effort when penned in their own 22 to hold out rampaging Springboks pressing for a match-winning try.
"It was desperate times and that reveals the character of the team," All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said.
"We just had to keep tackling and a mistake came thank goodness."
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen likened the clash to arm-wrestling that could have gone either way.
"The arm-wrestle was won in the last hundredth of a second of the game because they could easily have scored right at the very end and won it."
Although it was a bruising encounter, as expected of the fierce rivals, it was not champagne rugby and far from the nine-try spectacular when they last clashed in Johannesburg last year.
This time, both sides could only manage one try each and were guilty of multiple errors in the heated atmosphere.
It was a match which South Africa desperately wanted to win to cap celebrations for captain Jean de Villiers 100th Test
"The disappointment overshadows the achievement," de Villiers said, who said the outcome came down to one lineout at the end with Kieran Read preventing Victor Matfield from winning the ball.
"It could have gone our way but it didn't. It's a tough one to swallow. It is a loss against a quality side, a very good team. (We were) just not good enough at the end."
The All Blacks, who defended a proud record of not having been beaten on home soil in 34 matches dating back to 2009, were guilty of poor skill execution and a predictable game plan that the Springboks easily read and came close to trumping.
The tourists shored up the inside channel where Brodie Retallick lead the All Blacks heavy runners at fledgling Springbok fly-half Handre Pollard, and put sweepers in to cover the excessive All Blacks kicking.
The All Blacks points came from a try to Richie McCaw, two penalties by Aaron Cruden and a penalty to Beauden Barrett.
For South Africa, who saw their title hopes slip further away, Cornal Hendricks scored a try with Pollard landing the conversion and a drop goal.
It was a second consecutive defeat for South Africa after losing 24-23 to Australia last week when Bryan Habana reached his century of Tests.
Although the All Blacks controlled much of the game they were guilty of too many turnovers and it took a penalty from Cruden in the 10th minute to put the All Blacks on the board.
The 20-year-Pollard refused to be rattled from all the attention he was getting and two minutes later the fledgling international was instrumental in setting up the Springboks opening try.
After drilling the All Blacks into the corner with a racking kick he then put Cornal Hendricks through a gap for the right wing to step around Israel Dagg to score.
Cruden closed the gap to 6-7 with his second penalty after captain Richie McCaw was held up over the line but was unsuccessful with a third attempt just on half-time that would have regained the lead for the All Blacks at the turn.
The All Blacks opening try came early in the second half with a well-weighted cross kick to Read and he was able to stand up in the de Villiers tackle to pop a simple pass to McCaw who scored in the corner.
Scrum-half Aaron Smith, who blew a first half try opportunity when he lost the ball diving for the line, missed a second opportunity in the second spell when he toed the ball over the line only to be outsprinted by Willie le Roux.
Pollard brought the Springboks within a point of the lead with a drop goal to narrow the gap to 11-10 before replacement All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett landed a penalty to extend the margin to four points.