While the backs stole much of the glory at Ellis Park, it was the hard workers up front who made the razzle-dazzle possible. The All Blacks had a tough time making much headway with ball-in-hand as their ball-carriers were suffocated by the physicality of the Springbok forwards. New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said after the game that the pressure exerted at close quarters by the South Africans caused many of the handling mistakes that robbed them of momentum.
The Springboks had a few problems in the lineouts in the second half, but that set-piece was generally solid and the scrum, which had been the focus of much concern earlier in the competition, ended the competition in impressive fashion by enjoying an edge over the All Blacks.
2) They have two world-class, match-winning flyhalves
Flyhalf has been a position of almost perpetual uncertainty for coach Heyneke Meyer, but Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie were the heroes of their win over the All Blacks and have shown they have what it takes to perform against the best, under severe pressure.
Pollard has been touted as the next big thing ever since he was the player of the tournament as he led the South Africa U20s to the final of the IRB Junior World Cup in June, and he was given his first Test start at the end of that month against Scotland, playing with tremendous assurance in a 55-6 win for the Springboks.
Two more starts against Argentina followed, but with the forwards struggling, he did not set the world alight and Morne Steyn returned for the match against Australia in Perth. The veteran’s disastrous performance meant the number 10 jersey was given back to Pollard for the match against the All Blacks in Wellington, with the 20-year-old producing a composed display.
A solid outing against Australia in Cape Town followed, but this weekend at Ellis Park he was nothing sort of top-class.
A graceful runner with ball in hand, he is deceptively quick and very powerful, as he showed by scoring through McCaw.
A dangerous, direct runner, Pollard adds considerably to the Springbok attack, but his kicking is still a work in progress.
The presence on the bench of somebody as cool and composed under pressure as Lambie provides tremendous security for Meyer. The Sharks star played pivotal roles as a replacement in the wins over both Australia and New Zealand and, having spent many frustrating days injured and then waiting to get more game time, the 23-year-old can look forward to many more Test appearances.
The Steyn era may now have passed but the Springboks will be pleased to have his experience in the background, while the talents of Racing Metro flyhalf Johan Goosen are also on the radar.
3) The midfield is gelling
The centre pairing for the Springboks has been the subject of much debate with Jan Serfontein moving to number 13 to partner Jean de Villiers. The critics have been calling for the more naturally attacking outside centre skills of a Juan de Jongh or a S’Bura Sithole, but the De Villiers/Serfontein partnership is certainly gelling judging by the ease with which they created space on the outside against the All Blacks. The marvellously quick hands of De Villiers were a major factor in this.
The goal will be for Serfontein to become totally defensively attuned to the number 13 position but the backs scoring three tries against the All Blacks suggests the attacking aspect is coming together.
4) Confidence and belief will be sky-high
The Springboks will now believe that they can beat any other team in world rugby and that they can master a high-tempo, attacking brand of play, as well as a more forward-dominated, tighter strategy.
The pace at which they are able to perform – they have closed the gap on the All Blacks in this respect – will be a valuable weapon against Northern Hemisphere teams at the World Cup and there will no longer be the burden of a losing streak against a certain side.