Superior fitness allowed New Zealand to overhaul archrivals South Africa 26-21 from 21-12 down with five minutes of regular time left in their Tri-Nations rugby clash on Saturday.
South Africa were on the brink of beating the All Blacks at home for a fourth successive year, but New Zealand sensed before the end of the first half that the Springboks were already starting to tire.
Lifting the pace of the game -- especially taking quick lineouts -- New Zealand wore out the Africans and scored converted tries in the 75th and 78th minutes to lead for the first time at King's Park Stadium and vindicate the conditioning program which iced 22 All Blacks for the first half of the Super 14.
"The game is 80 minutes, and we knew if we continued running with the ball in hand we'd tire them out and holes would start appearing," said All Blacks No. 8 Rodney So'oialo, the man of the match.
So'oialo initiated the All Blacks' first try, taking a punt deep in his own half. He weaved through the defense past halfway, had Jerry Collins in support, and after multiple phases to the left, the third man in the team's outstanding loose trio -- captain Richie McCaw -- ended up battering over two defenders to touch down.
Daniel Carter's conversion closed it to 21-19.
Moments later, winger Joe Rokocoko's grubber deflected sideways, replacement fullback Leon MacDonald picked up, steamed ahead and passed back to Rokocoko for an easy go-ahead try. Carter's conversion made it 26-21, and the All Blacks almost scored a try soon after off a dropped pass by South Africa captain Victor Matfield, but So'oialo had nobody to pass to in front of the posts.
"The players showed great character in never giving up," All Blacks coach Graham Henry said. "Our bench men made the difference when they came on as they brought a new dimension to the game when it really counted."
South Africa rued blowing an opportunity to inject a little doubt into the favorites for this year's World Cup.
"We ran out of steam," Boks coach Jake White said.
He said consecutive weekends of success starting with the Super 14 playoffs through home victories against England, Samoa and Australia had left his Springboks sore and bruised, and not as fit as they'd like for the All Blacks.
"In regard to this match I rather believe we lost it rather than to say we were taken apart and beaten. And that is something to take back to the drawing board," White said. "In many regards it was a difficult match that turned on a couple of defining moments. But the fact of the matter is that one should win your home games if you want to lift the Tri-Nations trophy. But we did get a bonus point so we will be hoping that the Aussies will do us a favor and halt them next week."
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