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Saturday, 10 August, 2002, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
All Blacks edge Durban thriller
All Blacks lock Simon Maling tries to break clear
All Blacks lock Simon Maling tries to break clear
South Africa 23-30 New Zealand

New Zealand put themselves in pole position to regain the Tri-Nations title after a bruising encounter with South Africa marred by a spectator's attack on referee David McHugh.

A try from centre Aaron Mauger six minutes from time saw the All Blacks prevail at Durban's ABSA Stadium and also claim a precious bonus point.

Their win means Australia must score four tries and win their final match in Johannesburg next Saturday by more than 26 points to hang onto their crown.

But a pulsating encounter will also be remembered for an ugly incident that saw Irish referee McHugh attacked by a spectator early in the second half.

  Scoreboard:
South Africa: (23)
Tries: de Kock, Pretorius
Cons: Pretorius 2
Pens: Pretorius 2
Drop: Pretorius
New Zealand (30):
Tries: MacDonald, Penalty, Howlett, Mauger
Cons: Mehrtens 2
Pens: Mehrtens 2

The alertness of New Zealand flanker Richie McCaw to wrestle the perpetrator to the floor avoided a potentially more serious situation.

But a delay of nearly 10 minutes in all while McHugh was carted off with a shoulder injury, and Englishman Chris White took the whistle, affected the rhythm of the match.

The teams were locked at 17-17 at the interval as New Zealand edged an entertaining first half three-to-two on the try count.

Springboks coach Rudi Straeuli was instantly rewarded for two of his four team changes when recalled wing Dean Hall and scrum-half Neil de Kock combined for the opening try with barely 90 seconds on the clock.

The All Blacks lost possession at a ruck and South Africa were quick to capitalise when de Kock and Marius Joubert combined to send Hall on a 50m dash.

The wing was held up five metres short, but fed supporting full-back Werner Greef, who in turn found de Kock with the scoring pass out of a tackle.

Scott Robertson evades Neil de Kock's attempted tackle
Robertson evades de Kock's attempted tackle

Pretorius converted, but New Zealand were quick to respond to the setback, Leon MacDonald scoring in the fourth minute.

Mehrtens created the try with a lovely dummy and break, Umaga sending the recalled full-back over in the corner.

Mehrtens was off target with the conversion attempt, but the fly-half might have put his side ahead in the 13th minute when he was sent clear down the left touchline.

But Greef recovered superbly with a try-saving tackle to bundle Mehrtens into touch.

There was controversy moments later though when McHugh awarded the All Blacks a penalty try after a high tackle on Umaga.

Scott Robertson's charge down of a de Kock kick had the Springboks backpedalling and Justin Marshall's superb reverse pass sent Umaga clear before he was almost decapitated by De Wet Barry.

Richie McCaw tries to escape Bob Skinstad's attentions
McCaw tries to escape Bob Skinstad's attentions

Mehrtens profited further from the award by converting for a 12-7 lead, before McHugh made himself even more unpopular with a partisan 57,000 crowd.

James Dalton's dummy run appeared legitimate, but McHugh ruled for an obstruction to make Breyton Paulse's clinical finish irrelevant.

But South Africa were undeterred, and Pretorius reduced the deficit with a penalty before outstanding flanker Joe van Niekerk created a second Springboks try on the half-hour.

Attack

Pretorius followed up his own dart and kick over the retreating defence to collect the loose ball and dive over, adding the conversion to put his side 17-12 ahead.

But the see-saw nature of the match continued as Umaga's half-break sucked in the Springboks cover before sending wing Doug Howlett in at the right corner for his 14th try in 20 Tests.

Mehrtens missed the conversion from wide out to leave the match poised at 17-17 at the interval.

The atrocious attack on McHugh on the resumption disrupted proceedings before Pretorius edged the Springboks back in front after 48 minutes with his second penalty.


But Mehrtens levelled with a long-range effort after another Barry high tackle on Umaga, only for Pretorius to regain the ascendancy with a thunderous drop goal in the 51st minute.

South Africa might have scored again after a sensational break from van Niekerk, but Mehrtens again drew New Zealand level on the hour.

Both sides continued to press for a winning score in a punishing final quarter, before the All Blacks finally worked an overlap for Mauger to cross for the winning try, New Zealand's fourth.

Mehrtens converted to leave New Zealand with one hand on the Tri-Nations trophy they last held in 1999.


Teams:

South Africa: Werner Greeff; Breyton Paulse, Marius Joubert, De Wet Barry, Dean Hall; Andre Pretorius, Neil de Kock; Bobby Skinstad, Joe van Niekerk, Corne Krige (capt); AJ Venter, Jannes Labuschagne; Willie Meyer, James Dalton, Lawrence Sephaka.

Replacements: Ollie le Roux (for Meyer, 58), Faan Rautenbach (for Sephaka, 58), Victor Matfield (for Venter, 75), Hendro Scholtz (for Krige, 75), Johannes Conradie (for de kock, 50), Adrian Jacobs, Brent Russell (for Barry, 50).

New Zealand: Leon MacDonald; Doug Howlett, Tana Umaga, Aaron Mauger, Caleb Ralph; Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall; Scott Robertson, Richard McCaw, Reuben Thorne (capt); Simon Maling, Chris Jack; Greg Somerville, Tom Willis, Dave Hewett.

Replacements: Mark Hammett (for Willis, 55), Joe McDonnell, Sam Broomhall (for Maling, 55), Marty Holah, Byron Kelleher (for Marshall, 70), Daryl Gibson (for MacDonald, 62) Jonah Lomu.

Referee: David McHugh (Ireland)

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"There was plenty of toe-to-toe intensity"

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