South Africa are deserving champions of the Southern Hemisphere's premier tournament. They were only narrowly defeated in both New Zealand (especially) and Australia, crucially gaining bonus points in both.
And in their home games, they ended up emphatic winners against New Zealand and deserved winners against Australia. Though the scoreline in this match was close, and Australia were pushing for the winning score at the death, the truth is that South Africa should have won more convincingly.
South Africa were down 7-3 at halftime courtesy of a Lote Tuqiri try, where he had the freedom of the ABSA Stadium to collect Clyde Rathbone's deft grubber, to a rather drunken Percy Montgomery penalty. Rathbone had found himself between a Bok and a hard place thoughout the first half, but made up for a couple of errors in this moment.
The first half had been even in terms of possession, but the Springboks had been on top territorially and would have felt hard done by to be losing.
In the third quarter, though, they owned the match and threatened at one point to blow Australia away. There was a hint of role reversal in seeing Breyton Paulse, one of the smallest players on the pitch, get his hand to his own garryowen ahead of Chris Latham and knocking the ball into the hands of Victor Matfield, who, with men outside, threw a dummy to George Gregan and ran it in like a winger. Montgomery's convert made it 10-7 and the 55,000 crowd sensed the match was now for the taking.
The pressure continued and with Os du Randt, destroying the Wallaby scrum at will, denied a try by the television match official, the Wallaby defence was beginning to crumble. The inevitable was delayed only by two minutes as Joe van Niekerk was sent in on the left by a delicious Matfield skip ball after the Springboks were held up on the right.
With Australia making some basic errors, Montgomery notched up another two penalties to stretch the score to 23-7 with 18 minutes left, and one began to consider the possibility of a hammering, such was the mood of the crowd and the pressure South Africa were exerting.
However, the Wallabies gathered themselves, and helped by some poor Spriongbok tackling, took the game back to South Africa. John Roe, on for Lyons now, made a couple of bullocking runs, augmented by a couple of Giteau snipes.
Suddenly, the South Africans were defending their own line and conceding penalties. Schalk Burger was fortunate not to see yellow, but ultimately Montgomery did on 68 minutes for hitting Latham in the air off his own garryowen.
The Wallabies turned the opportunity to account when Larkham threw a beautifully conceived pass to Mortlock to skate in. Giteau's convert brought it to 23-14 with nine minutes to go.
Australia continued to press, eschewing a reltively simple penalty to bring them to six points down on 76 minutes and not able to convert the lineout. Paulse was extremely unlucky to be binned on 78, before George Smith finally got over in a maul.
But time had effectively run out when Burke missed the conversion. In the remaining minute, the Boks held out for a win that represents a heck of a turnaround from the worst excesses of 'Camp Barb Wire' and a victory for consistent selection and faith in youth.
South Africa: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Breyton Paulse, 13 Marius Joubert, 12 De Wet Barry, 11 Jean de Villiers, 10 Jaco van der Westhuyzen, 9 Bolla Conradie (Fourie du Preez, 40), 8 Joe van Niekerk, 7 AJ Venter (Gerrie Britz, 64), 6 Schalk Burger (Jacques Cronji, 36-40), 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Eddie Andrews (CJ van der Linde, 67), 2 John Smit (captain), 1 Os du Randt (Hanyani Shimange, 79).
Unused replacements: 21 Gaffie du Toit, 22 Brent Russell.
Australia: 15 Chris Latham, 14 Clyde Rathbone (Wendell Sailor, 64), 13 Stirling Mortlock (Matthew Burke, 74), 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Stephen Larkham, 9 George Gregan (captain), 8 David Lyons (John Roe, 68), 7 Phil Waugh, 6 George Smith (John Roe 26-31), 5 Nathan Sharpe (Daniel Vickerman, 56), 4 Justin Harrison, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Brendan Cannon (Jeremy Paul, 63), 1 Bill Young (Matt Dunning, 66).
Unused replacements: 20 Chris Whitaker.
Yellow cards: Montgomery (South Africa, 70), Paulse (South Africa, 78)