Boks lose out to All Blacks
The All Blacks retained the Rugby Championship silverware on Saturday as a six wins from six record ended with a 38-27 victory over South Africa.
It had been billed as possessing the ingredients to create one of the great Tests and the two teams did not disappoint. Put simply, it was a classic.
There were thrills and spills from minute one with nine tries scored in all, but crucially for New Zealand they picked up the try bonus-point.
In fact they got five, despite being down to 14 men for a quarter of the game. The Boks though can't fault their own efforts and neither will their fans.
But this is a special group of All Blacks who, despite missing Dan Carter, were led superbly by the likes of Kieran Read, Israel Dagg, Ma'a Nonu and Liam Messam. Substitute fly-half Beauden Barrett was also critical coming off the bench.
New Zealand did begin the stronger but despite their dominance, the All Blacks failed to trouble the scoreboard. What they did do was show to any pre-game pessimists they weren't here to just defend.
South Africa were clearly awoken and hit back after Charlie Faumuina was penalised by referee Nigel Owens at the scrum. Morne Steyn made no mistake to put his side 3-0 up.
Attempting to seal victory before going all guns blazing for tries was clearly the message from Heyneke Meyer and unfortunately for South Africa they weren't prepared for the Kiwis' retort. Ben Smith it was who crossed for the game's first try on twelve minutes following excellent work down the sideline from Read, who offloaded after drawing two defenders. Smith then stepped inside and raced over for his eighth try of this year's tournament.
Smith's score saw him become the record marksman for a season in the Rugby Championship and old Tri-Nations format, moving above Habana and Christian Cullen.
Cue the aforementioned Bok to show his unique class as he went over for a brace of scores in two minutes. His first arrived following Duane Vermuelen's line break 35 metres out, with the number eight then firing out a good pass to his wing who did well to get under the posts.
South Africa were now 10-7 ahead before Habana's second moment of brilliance, this time one of the best of his career. The Toulon-bound wing was this time sent on his way by a superb offload on halfway from Francois Louw, with Habana's chip over the top bringing his pace to the fore as he made it 15-7. Unluckily for him, he would soon leave the field injured.
New Zealand, as is their wont, responded in kind through Messam's drive over the line, helped by the hard-working Brodie Retallick, as the lead was down to a single point.
It had looked like South Africa might hit back though in the closing stages of the half but streetwise defence saved the visitors' skin before they launched a late attack of their own. It bore fruit too, with Messam finishing off a fine team try on the left for a 21-15 half-time lead.
So New Zealand had three tries to South Africa's two, as the importance of the next five-pointer became increasingly critical to the destination of the Rugby Championship trophy.
It would be the Boks who claimed it and that arrived following a yellow card for Messam at a ruck. Willie le Roux was the man to go in from a quickly-taken penalty and with Steyn's successful extras, the home side were 22-21 to the good with 34 minutes remaining.
The lead exchanged hands once again when Barrett kicked a penalty in the 55th minute.
Jean de Villiers then showed grit two minutes later when he sold a dummy and crashed his way over Barrett and Nonu to score his side's fourth try, with Steyn missing the two points.
The tourists then struck a psychological blow as Barrett scored the All Blacks' fourth try of the match - an impressive individual one at that - to ensure they claimed the silverware.
The All Blacks shrugged off another numerical disadvantage when Ben Franks was sin-binned as Read extended their lead with fifteen minutes left in the Ellis Park encounter.
The Boks made a spirited attempt to cut the gap to secure the consolation of victory but their opponents proved too strong and will celebrate another triumph and a 100 percent record.
<b>Man of the match:</b> The future long-term captain of New Zealand, <b>Kieran Read</b>, showed once again that he is probably the most complete player in world rugby. Offloads to savour, pace and just a real dog about him made the number eight's performance stand out.
<b>Moment of the match:</b> It was going to be Bryan Habana's second try but how can one overlook super-sub <b>Beauden Barrett</b>. He has been the scourge of South Africa this year, being key in Brodie Retallick's try at Eden Park before scoring one of his own today. Superb.
<b>Villain of the match:</b> Nothing dirty to report but if we have to, how about that teamsheet typo?
For South Africa:
Tries: Habana 2, Le Roux, De Villiers
Con: Steyn 2
For New Zealand:
Tries: B Smith, Messam 2, Barrett, Read
Con: Cruden 3, Barrett 2
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Ruan Pienaar 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Charles Piutau
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant referees: John Lacey, Leighton Hodges
Television match official: Graham Hughes