The Junior Springboks produced a superb comeback from trailing 21-0 after 30 minutes to beat New Zealand 41-34 (halftime 21-26) and claim a third place finish at the IRB Junior World Champsionships in Vannes, France, on Sunday.
The Junior Boks scored three tries in the space of seven minutes in the first half to throw the game back into the melting pot and then took control in the final half hour to close out a memorable victory of character and skill.
New Zealand had raced into a 21-0 lead in as many minutes through tries by left wing Lolagi Visinia (2) and No 8 Joe Edwards.
South Africa looked down and out but fought back remarkably, although they had to wait until the 31st minute for their first score. Right wing Luther Obi stepped between two defenders from ten metres out after good forward drives to restore South African hopes.
The forwards then repeated the dose from a five-metre penalty with tighthead Luan de Bruin profiting this time before Seabelo Senatla intercepted in the New Zealand backline to level the scores (21-21) and complete the three-try burst.
New Zealand fullback Joe Webber scored in the corner with the final move of the first half and a Simon Hickey penalty re-opened the lead to eight points (29-21) six minutes into the second half to once again put the Junior Springboks under pressure. But they responded superbly.
They warmed to their work and, following the sin-binning of flank Jordan Manihera for the killing the ball at the latest of a succession of South African attacks, they began to take an unshakeable hold.
Captain Ruan Steenkamp and replacement flank Kwagga Smith scored tries in the 53rd and 56th minutes to put South Africa into the lead for the first time. Handré Pollard added a penalty to give the Junior Boks a 36-29 lead.
New Zealand added to their own problems when they were reduced to 13 men when replacement prop Kalafi Pongi was sin binned for taking out a man in the air.
However they were back to 14 when impressive South African scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer collected a pass from Steenkamp at the base of a five-metre scrum to cross in the corner for the decisive score in the 71st minute.
Pollard was unable to convert but South Africa led by 12 points (41-29) and, although Manihera scored a try with three minutes remaining, the Junior Boks maturely controlled the game to the final whistle.
South Africa – Tries: Luther Obi, Luan de Bruin, Seabelo Senatla, Ruan Steenkamp, Kwagga Smith, Stefan Ungerer. Conversions: Handré Pollard (4). Penalty: Pollard.
New Zealand – Tries: Lolagi Visinia (2), Joe Edwards, Joe Webber, Jordan Manihera. Conversions: Simon Hickey (3). Penalty: Hickey.