JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- New Zealand enhanced its credentials as the best team in the world by continually coming back against a pumped-up South Africa to win 38-27 in a sizzling finale to keep the Rugby Championship title on Saturday.
The top-ranked and world champion All Blacks took their recent dominance a significant step further by winning at Ellis Park for the first time in 16 years and scoring five tries in the intimidating inner-city cauldron against a No. 2-ranked Springboks team that probably played as well as it could on attack -- and scored four tries against the All Blacks for the first time in nearly a decade.
New Zealand's fourth try and title-winning blow came in the 61st minute of a breathless contest when replacement flyhalf Beauden Barrett sliced through, and outstanding No. 8 Kieran Read scored the fifth two minutes later to completely shatter the Boks.
"Days like today are the reason you put on the boots," All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said after his 120th test but first at Ellis.
Coach Steve Hansen opened his media conference by saying he wanted to congratulate both teams on "a very special game of rugby."
"Both sets of players left everything on the park and both countries should be very proud of their teams," Hansen said.
But it is mighty New Zealand which holds every major title it is eligible for. The All Blacks, playing 20 minutes of the second half a man down, took everything a desperate South Africa could muster and finished a gripping match stronger for a sixth win from six in the championship.
"If we sit down and analyze the game, I'm sure we can find a lot of positives," Springboks skipper Jean de Villiers said of his shattered team. "But we can never be happy with this result."
De Villiers scored South Africa's bonus-point fourth try in the 58th and for just under three minutes with a roaring crowd behind it, the home team sensed the possibility of stealing the title with the crucial bonus point it needed. The Boks had to then just win by more than seven and shut down the All Blacks for an against-the-odds turnaround.
Barrett killed that dream straight away, earning the bonus point the All Blacks needed to win the competition no matter the result as he busted through the defence and skipped clear. Read, with a rampaging break down the left flank, added another try for good measure, the hammer blow that left no doubt as to the sport's current leaders.
"We've had some good performances over a few years, but this is probably right up the top," Hansen said.
Most spectators would agree.
Right at the start, Ben Smith cut inside a host of South African defenders off a defence-opening Read pass for the first try in the 12th minute and New Zealand's first lead. It was the winger's eighth try, breaking the single-season record. Opposite number Bryan Habana replied with two scores in two minutes to become the leading try-scorer in the competition's history, the records a sideshow to the immense overall contest that South Africa suddenly led, though Habana left straight after his second try with a leg injury.
Flanker Liam Messam then scored two tries for the All Blacks, the second well after the halftime hooter in a brilliant display of the cleverness and creativity of their game as they went left, right and then left again to finally break through and change the momentum completely by leading 21-15 at halftime.
Winger Willie le Roux and captain De Villiers pushed the 60,000 people at a packed and breathless Ellis toward ecstasy with South Africa's two second-half tries in the 47th and 58th. In two crucial stages in the second half, the All Blacks had to front up with 14 men after Messam and then prop Ben Franks were sin-binned.
The All Blacks showed guts and then class as tries by Barrett and Read finished off a test that exceeded the immense hype.
"It was probably one of the best games I've ever been involved in," Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer said. But in saying that you want to win."
Overall, rugby's fiercest rivals shared nine tries and the lead changed hands continually at the venue where their near 100-year-old rivalry has often played out in spine-tingling fashion and where the momentous 1995 World Cup final went the Springboks' way.
At a sellout on Saturday, a South African jet flew low over the stadium three times before kickoff in a recreation of that '95 final and South Africa sensed it might have that precious edge again.
But New Zealand, clinical in attack and desperate and brave at times in defence, emerged to hold on to the southern hemisphere title and beat the Boks at Ellis for the first time since 1997. At the end, the All Blacks, rather than celebrating wildly, slumped over in exhaustion.
"When you've won a game that you know you've really had to work hard for, it's gratifying and satisfying," Hansen said. "First a sense of relief and then that feeling of joy. We came here and we got told history was against us."
New Zealand 38 (Liam Messam 2, Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett, Kieran Read tries; Aaron Cruden 3 conversions, Barrett 2 conversions, penalty), South Africa 27 (Bryan Habana 2, Willie le Roux, Jean de Villiers tries; Morne Steyn 2 conversions, penalty). HT: 21-15.