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All Blacks have the grit as well as swagger

They can win with swagger and a touch of arrogance that defines the All Blacks aura. But New Zealand, as they showed in reaching a second successive World Cup final, can also win ugly through grit, will and self-belief.

Three defeats in 53 matches since their 2011 World Cup triumph is testament to not only a winning mentality but the strength of character that pervades through Steve Hansen’s side when the going gets tough.

South Africa made it tough at Twickenham on Saturday and the All Blacks knew they would. They always do.

All manner of superlatives were heaped on New Zealand, including the label of best team ever by Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer, after their 62-13 romp against France in the last eight.

Hansen branded some of the more outlandish statements as “outrageous” and he chose words like composure and leadership to describe a 20-18 victory in the Twickenham drizzle and murk.

“Great performances don’t always look the same,” he said.

Just like when they trailed up until the 57th minute in their opening pool match against Argentina the All Blacks needed to flex their muscles when it mattered.

Poor discipline had allowed the Springboks to lead 12-7 at the break and flanker Jerome Kaino’s yellow card left New Zealand a man down for the opening minutes of the second half.

With quarter-final talisman Julian Savea a peripheral figure, the likes of centre Ma’a Nonu and lock Sam Whitelock stepped up.

Nehe Milner-Skudder made the metres, fullback Ben Smith dealt calmly with the Springbok high bombs but Nonu shouldered the workload.

His direct running pushed the Boks back, spinning like a slippery eel out of tackles and providing the run and pass for Neauden Barrett’s 52nd-minute try that turned the game the All Blacks’ way.

Captain Richie McCaw highlighted the All Blacks’ killer instinct.

“We got a couple of chances and took them. That’s what you have to do in big games,” he said.

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