NZ beats Springboks 14-10 in Rugby Championship
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Captain Richie McCaw scored a crucial second-half try from a sputtering attack as New Zealand ground out a 14-10 win over South Africa on Saturday to stay unbeaten after four rounds of the Rugby Championship.
McCaw’s 24th try in his 131st test allowed New Zealand to overturn a 7-6 first-half deficit and add to its two wins and a draw in its previous Championship matches. The All Blacks remain unbeaten in 15 matches in the four-nation tournament since its inception in 2012 and now close on their third straight title.
But New Zealand had to hold out under immense pressure through the last five minutes as South Africa relentlessly pressed its goalline. Tactical errors finally cost the Springboks who suffered their sixth straight loss to New Zealand.
After winning a scrum but then losing the ball to give South Africa one last chance at victory, the All Blacks managed to snuff out a blindside attack and scramble the ball to touch to end the game.
Springboks captain Jean de Villiers had hoped to celebrate his 100th test match with a win but, though he became the fifth South African to win 100 test caps, he became the fourth to mark that milestone with a loss.
“That was everything we expected from the Boks. They’re great competitors,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. “It probably wasn’t the prettiest game in the world to watch I wouldn’t imagine, but it was a tough, tough test.”
While both teams were enterprising at times Saturday, there was still a contrast in styles. South Africa attacked most effectively from set pieces or the immediately following phase: lock Victor Matfield, in his 115th test, was a towering force in lineouts and backrower Duane Vermuelen was always effective in his carries as first receiver.
New Zealand counter-attacked strongly from kicks and broken play, always of one mind when turnovers presented impromptu attacking possibilities. They also sought continuity, working the ball through long series of phases as they looked for a hinge to open South Africa’s resilient defense.
But they made an uncharacteristically large number of handling errors in Saturay’s slippery conditions, and were harried into many of those by the speed with which the Springboks rallied to close defensive holes.
“Our links between winning the ball and playing with it with out backs were poor at times,” Hansen said. “We’ll have to have a look at that and see what the problem was.”
The All Blacks had 65 percent of territory in the first half but went to the break a point behind. Flyhalf Aaron Cruden kicked them into the lead with a penalty in 10 minutes during which the Springboks hadn’t ventured outside their own half.
New Zealand attacked frequently but moves broke down and it was the Springboks who shocked the All Blacks with a brilliantly constructed try to winger Cornal Hendricks after 15 minutes. Matfield secured lineout ball and flyhalf Handre Pollard sent a flat pass to Vermuelen who set up the second phase. With quickly-recycled ball Hendricks sprinted off his right wing and sawed into a hole left when center Ma’a Nonu had beend rawn wide. The winger took a pass from Pollard and continued on a curving run to the line as the All Blacks defense was rudely exposed.
Pollard converted to give South Africa a 7-3 lead which was trimmed to 7-6 with Cruden’s second penalty. The All Blacks flyhalf had a chance to give his team the lead at halftime but his 40th-minute penalty from near halfway sailed well wide of the posts.
The try which gave the All Blacks the lead in the 45th minute was magnificent and had come to seem inevitable as New Zealand continued with an overwhelming weight of territory and possession. The Springboks were once again trapped within their own half from the kickoff and the All Blacks stretched the defense with constant and varied attack.
With two Springbok players down with injuries, Cruden spotted a defensive shortage outside and sent a pinpoint kick crossfield which was reclaimed close to the line by Kieran Read. Read held the ball momentarily and then handed off to McCaw who dashed around him to score close to the right-hand touchline.
Pollard, who was chosen to start his fourth test ahead of veteran Morne Steyn, showed his worth with a snapped dropgoal in the 55th minute which cut the lead to a point a 11-10.
The All Blacks began to disrupt the Springboks’ set piece, especially when Bismarck du Plessis replaced Adriaan Strauss at hooker and South Africa’s lineout faltered. After another bust by Savea down the left flank, Barrett kicked a penalty to give the All Blacks a 14-10 lead.
New Zealand seemed then to have some control of the game but South Africa made a gigantic effort to wrest the test from them at the end. They parked themselves close to the All Blacks goalline though the dying minutes of the match but couldn’t find the last effort needed to breach the New Zealand defense.
New Zealand 14 (Richie McCaw try; Aaron Cruden 2 penalties; Beauden Barrett penalty), South Africa 10 (Cornal Hendricks try; Handre Pollard conversion, dropped goal). HT: 6-7.