New Zealand finish in style
The All Blacks completed an impressive clean sweep in the Rugby Championship on Saturday, overcoming South Africa 32-16 at Soccer City on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
In a performance worthy of their status as the top-ranked team in the world, New Zealand weathered an early storm to overturn a half-time deficit and eventually run out comfortable winners.
The result extends the All Blacks' winning streak to 16 consecutive games, moving them within touching distance of the world record.
The Springboks led 16-12 at the break having dominated for most of the first half but were given a lesson in counter attacking to be outscored two tries to one in the opening stanza.
The All Blacks reversed the trend in the second period, adding two more tries while denying their hosts any points to underline their supremacy.
It was a classic case of shifting momentum - while South Africa start with a bang and ended with a whimper, the Kiwis progressively upped the tempo until there was only one team left in the contest.
The much-vaunted Highveld crowd mirrored their team's effort as they made it very clear to the All Blacks they weren't in Auckland anymore in the early stages but the corridors were filled with fans leaving the stadium with ten minutes left on the clock.
As was the case a week ago, Johan Goosen missed his first two attempts at goal but the hosts would nevertheless open the scoring with a rare sight: A South African try from a set-piece move! Willem Alberts bust through the All Black defence before offloading to Jean de Villiers, who showed off some juggling skills but managed to hold on. Bryan Habana was in space outside his skipper and had an easy run in, scoring behind the posts.
Goosen had no problems with the conversion and could further extend the lead to 10 points at the end of the first quarter when Brodie Retallick was penalised for a dangerous tackle.
The All Blacks had hardly ventured into the South African half but took their first chance to score in typical fashion, with a blistering counter-attack from broken play to send lock Sam Whitelock over in the corner.
If the hosts weren't already alerted to the New Zealand's ability to punish mistakes, they were given a reminder on 35 minutes. Habana came flying up in search of an intercept, it didn't work, and Hosea Gear ghosted through the gap left in the Bok defensive line before offloading to Aaron Smith, who finished. Dan Carter's conversion gave the visitors a lead that made a mockery of the possession and territory stats.
The Boks were dealt another blow as Goosen was forced off injured but replacement fly-half Elton Jantjies held his nerve with his first kick to put South Africa back in front at 13-12.
Jantjies found the target again from 48 metres with the last act of the half to give the hosts a deserved four-point advantage at the interval.
The All Blacks moved back in front almost immediately after the restart however after Jaco Taute missed a tackle on Israel Dagg, who combined with Kieran Read to set up a try for Ma'a Nonu.
Disorganizsed defending cost the Boks another try as Conrad Smith touched down to put the visitors ten points clear once Carter had added the easy extras.
Two misses from Jantjies suggested the Boks' woes at the kicking tee were far from finished, prompting Jean de Villiers to turn down a shot at goal in favour of chasing a try. And it nearly paid off, but Habana was not able to hang on when presented with a chance in the corner.
The last quarter was one-way traffic. Carter added a neat drop and a penalty to move his team well clear...in more ways than one.
Man of the Match There were a number of candidates in black but the official award went to Kieran Read, who was once again the ultimate example of a complete number eight as his ball skills matched his contribution in the tight exchanges.
Man of the Match There were a number of candidates in black but the official award went to Kieran Read, who was once again the ultimate example of a complete number eight as his balls skills matched his contribution in the tight exchanges.
Moment of the match: The All Blacks' second try, scored by Aaron Smith, summed up where these teams are at the moment. An instance of a Springbok trying too hard to do something special was punished by a clinic finish. Give All Blacks scraps, and they will feast!
Villian of the match: The 'fans' who left early.
For South Africa:
Pens: Goosen, Jantjies 2
For New Zealand:
Tries: Whitelock, A. Smith, Nonu, C. Smith
Cons: Carter 3
Drop goal: Carter
Yellow card: Dagg (66th min - offside)
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Elton Jantjies, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Pat Lambie.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Tamati Ellison.
Referee: Romain Poite (France), Greg Garner (England)
Assistant referees: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)