Mon, Jul 26, 2004 - Page 19 News List

All Blacks edge past Springboks in Tri Nations match

AP , CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND

Winger Doug Howlett scored a last-minute try after 15 phases of play Saturday to give New Zealand a 23-21 Tri Nations rugby win over South Africa.

The Springboks, chasing their first win over the All Blacks in eight matches spread over four years, led from the opening minute and scored three tries to one before stumbling to the heartbreaking loss.

Tries by Jean de Villiers, Jacques Cronje and Fourie du Preez gave South Africa a 21-12 halftime lead, but the All Blacks secured their sixth test win of the season with seconds to spare.

"This isn't a look of relief on my face, it's a look of pride," said All Blacks captain Tana Umaga. "I'm really proud of the way my guys stepped up and came back under all that pressure.

"We were really flat to start with and we got a hard talking to at halftime, and it was great that we came out and came back," Umaga said.

New Zealand was kept in the match by the kicking of center Daniel Carter, who landed five goals from six attempts. Flyhalf Carlos Spencer also kicked a penalty before Howlett outflanked South Africa's pristine defense to score in the 79th minute.

"I think the biggest disappointment for us is that we didn't lift ourselves in this game as much as we have in our other games this season," said Springbok captain John Smit.

"We've lifted ourselves to a new level in each game we've played so far, but this is the first game in which we haven't improved," Smit added.

The South Africans stunned the All Blacks with a try from de Villiers after only 30 seconds of the match. They scored two more before halftime and created a coordinated defensive blitz which shut down New Zealand's attacking game.

The Springboks were able to close in on the All Blacks backline quickly and in numbers, placing pressure on the first receiver and effectively closing down New Zealand's dangerous backline.

New Zealand dominated the match territorially and had almost 70 percent of possession, but it showed no signs of crossing the tryline until Howlett's last-gasp effort.

The South African loose-forward trio of Andre Venter, Schalk Berger and Cronje played well.

In perfect weather conditions, South Africa exposed All Black weaknesses at halfback and flyhalf where Justin Marshall and Spencer were ineffective.

South Africa's loss was its first in five matches under coach Jake White, who gave his team a highly effective game plan.

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