New Zealand 29 South Africa 9 (Rugby World Cup Quarter-final)
Telstra Dome, Melbourne
Saturday, 8 November 2003 8:30pm (NZT)
Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)
Half-time: New Zealand 13 South Africa 6
It was an all-or-nothing win for the All Blacks in Saturday night's Rugby World Cup semi-final against South Africa. The opponent was arguably the toughest they have faced at quarter-final stage during the four tournaments thus far.
But they did it, and with a 20-point margin convincingly so, although it had been a nervous wait for New Zealand supporters around the world.
With a three-tries-to-one victory, the All Blacks could leave the Telstra Dome in reasonably good spirits, especially with only three penalty goals to Derick Hougaard in response.
Leon MacDonald's try after a fine burst by Carlos Spencer was a major highlight of the game. With Joe Rokocoko and Keven Meleamu adding theirs for good measure, the ability of the All Blacks to make the most of their opportunities could not be doubted.
Let there be no mistake though: the South Africans, for all the negative press they have enjoyed in recent years, were the quarter-finalist that could have ended the 2003 All Blacks' dream.
With retiring halfback Joost van der Westhuizen wanting to go out on a winning note at this tournament and a proud rugby history, the wearers of the green jersey always had the potential to inflict All Black tragedy.
But Reuben Thorne's team rose to the occasion. The forwards held their own against the South African pressure, including dynamic forward Jerry Collins, Justin Marshall played forcefully at halfback, MacDonald had a solid game all round, including his try, conversion and three penalty goals. Aaron Mauger's drop kick was a good psychological boost, offsetting three missed kicks by MacDonald.
All being said and done: a good effort on the whole, with the All Blacks dominating possession and in the end, the game as a whole. It was historically significant: their first win against South Africa at a World Cup.
But every dropped pass, every error forced or unforced, now becomes absolutely crucial. And there were still a few in this game.
Perfection is a lot to ask for, even from the All Blacks. But if ever such a performance should be sought, it will be this weekend against the Wallabies at Olympic Stadium in Sydney. The pressure on the New Zealanders is now greater than any previous World Cup semi-final or Bledisloe Cup encounter.
Unlike 1991, they face the Wallabies at home in what could be a potentially be another heartbreaker. The Australians have a notorious habit of beating New Zealand at crunch time.
Enough is enough. The New Zealanders must dig, dig, and dig again within themselves to find the tactical, technical and emotional resources to carry them through to the Rugby World Cup final next weekend.
The All Blacks must absorb all the pressure from what could be a fired-up Australian team and supporters to depose them from this tournament. The dream is within sight of our team to finally excorcise 12 years of bitter memories and then go on to glory.
The All Blacks need our maximum support for what will be the most important game most of them will ever play.