Elton Jantjies nailed a penalty after the final hooter as world champions South Africa snapped a three-game losing streak to stun New Zealand 31-29 on Saturday in a Rugby Championship thriller.
Damian de Allende and Makazole Mapimpi scored tries in the battling win as they bounced back from 20-14 behind at half-time, with the lead changing hands four times in a breathless final five minutes.
It was sweet revenge for the Springboks after a late 19-17 defeat to their arch enemies a week ago, which came on the back of two successive losses to Australia.
After trailing at the break, the Springboks were revitalized when coach Jacques Nienaber changed the entire front row.
Mapimpi’s try early in the second stanza boosted their confidence and they piled intense pressure on New Zealand, forcing errors from a team that had won their previous 10 games.
Ultimately, it came down to the final few minutes, and Jantjies was the hero, converting a simple penalty in front of the posts after an offside decision.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks, thank you so much to South African fans for sticking with us,” said Springbok’s skipper Siya Kolisi, who took a nasty head knock. “We’re going to celebrate tonight.”
Despite losing the All Blacks had already sealed the southern hemisphere title, standing them in good stead heading to the United States, then a European tour later this month.
“Congratulations South Africa, they were awesome,” said skipper Ardie Savea. “We fought till the end but unfortunately we didn’t come out on top, but that’s ok.
“I think it’s special and unique times for this group,” he added. “We are disappointed tonight but there’s a lot to learn and a lot of room to grow.”
South Africa have been accused of having a one-dimensional game with their high-ball tactics, which has proved highly effective at times. But after three losses in a row, they changed tack, cutting down on the box kicks and swinging the ball wide.
Before a big crowd at CBus Super Stadium on Australia’s Gold Coast, they didn’t take long to make their mark, with de Allende gifted a try after the All-Blacks’ Codie Taylor spilled a pass inside his own 22.
Jordie Barrett made no mistake from the tee minutes later for New Zealand’s first points before Handre Pollard hit back to put the Springboks 8-3 ahead.
Stung by giving away a try, New Zealand knuckled down and their pressure paid off when Beauden Barrett lobbed a perfectly weighted cross-field kick for Sevu Reece to claim and finish in the corner.
Barrett began pulling the levers and was heavily involved again in their second try, spotting a gap before offloading to Rieko Ioane, who found a charging Savea to swallow dive over the line.
It was vintage New Zealand and scrum-half Brad Weber darted through for another try minutes later from a lineout to put them 20-11 ahead.
In a sign of Nienaber’s displeasure, he changed the front row just before half-time, and Pollard nailed a penalty after the hooter to keep them in touch.
Pollard’s boot was on-song again after the restart and South Africa snatched the lead 10 minutes in with a well-executed try from Mapimpi in the corner.
Elton Jantjies and Jordie Barrett traded penalties to leave South Africa 25-23 in front heading into the final 15 minutes.
Barrett looked to have won it for New Zealand with a penalty five minutes from time, only for Jantjies to convert a drop-kick.
But there was still more drama, with New Zealand earning another penalty that Barrett nailed — before Jantjies’ last-gasp winner.
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