Rugby Championship
All Blacks show championship mettle
ESPN Staff
July 25, 2015
Date/Time: Jul 25, 2015, 17:05 local, 15:05 GMT
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
South Africa 20 - 27 New Zealand
Attendance: 61500  Half-time: 10 - 10
Tries: Kriel, le Roux
Cons: Pollard 2
Pens: Pollard 2
Tries: Coles, McCaw, BR Smith
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Pens: Sopoaga 2
New Zealand's Lima Sopoaga and Richie McCaw celebrate victory, South Africa v New Zealand, Rugby Championship, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, July 25, 2015
New Zealand's Lima Sopoaga and Richie McCaw celebrate victory
© Getty Images

New Zealand have shown exactly why they have topped the World Rugby rankings for more than 10 years since 2003, resisting a stern challenge from the No.2-ranked Springboks at Ellis Park.

The Springboks dominated territory and possession for much of the game, as they did against Australia in Brisbane the week before, and they looked set to claim a famous victory on the back of another damaging and skilful display at the breakdown and the emerging midfield trio of Handre Pollard, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel, but they were unable to take advantage of the sin-binning of New Zealand replacement lock Sam Whitelock and the game changed when they lost replacement tight-head Vincent Koch.

The hosts elected to scrummage a succession of penalties under the posts, eschewing easy points to chase what seemed a certain try, but the All Blacks just held on despite immense pressure on their scrum and line, and the the Boks seemingly lost their rhythm when the game went to uncontested scrums with the introduction of loose-head Trevor Nyakane for Koch.

The All Blacks cleared their lines and gradually re-established themselves in the match, even though debutant fly-half Lima Sopoaga missed a long-range opportunity to level the score. They subsequently developed an 11-phase attack that went for three minutes before kicking a penalty for a five-metre lineout, But they refused the opportunity to roll a lineout drive; instead, Richie McCaw moved forward from the half-back position to crash over unopposed in a wonderful set play. Sopoaga converted to put the margin beyond a penalty, and then iced the victory with a goal after the siren after the All Blacks had wound down the clock brilliantly with a series of pick-and-go drives in Springboks territory.

South Africa 20-27 New Zealand (video available in Australia only)

Richie McCaw scores the decisive try of the game © Getty Images

The dramatic twist was nothing more than a wonderful fixture deserved, as it had ebbed and flowed with brilliant attacking rugby even though the Springboks had seemed set for large parts of the match to run away with victory; the All Blacks seemed for those same large parts to be hanging on after their deliberate ploy to run penalties and take quick lineouts to accelerate the play and stretch their opponents had failed to gain reward.

"Our blokes showed a lot of fortitude - they came out in the second half, really showed a lot of character and started to pull things together," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said, pleased with the way his team battled back after the Springboks had dominated possession and territory in the first 40 minutes.

"We're still pretty rusty, and that was reflected in the turnovers in the first half."

Hansen also noted Sopoaga's composed performance, with three conversions and two penalties as well as the team's outstanding defensive effort. "He showed a lot of character for a young man," said Hansen. "He missed a couple [of kicks] there but came back and kicked the important ones."

As for the team's defensive effort, Hansen said the 14-man effort to deny the Springboks was the difference between winning and losing.

"We missed a tackle on the South African goal line and they ended up back on ours and we defended our hearts out and showed a lot of courage. If they had scored then it would have been very difficult to come back but we showed the mental fortitude and the physical ability to keep getting up and making tackles and forced a turn over."

South Africa's Jesse Kriel breaks into space to score a try, South Africa v New Zealand, Rugby Championship, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, July 25, 2015
Jesse Kriel breaks into space to score a try © Getty Images

Hansen, meanwhile, described McCaw's decisive lineout try as "a variation of an old song, really".

"We practised it all week ... and it was good enough to get us home."

Sopoaga kicked the visitors into an early lead, but the Springboks hit back quickly through Willie le Roux, who ran a brilliant line to take an inside pass from Kriel and power through open space to the tryline. The Boks then turned over numerous breakdowns and set the All Blacks backwards with hard-hitting defence, but they failed to add to add more than a 20th-minute penalty from Pollard; the Al Blacks made them pay for their wastefulness on the stroke of half-time, when Ben Smith capped a wonderful counter-attack that featured a sensational midfield bust from Sopoaga, who also fed his Highlanders team-mate with an improvised over-the-top basketball pass.

The Boks regained the lead when Kriel took a flat ball Pollard and burst through the defence, but the All Blacks hit back almost immediately with a similar try from hooker Dane Coles after Malakai Fekitoa had created a gap with his footwork.

South Africa were denied a try when Lood de Jager came up short in extending his arm from beneath a ruck, but Pollard put the hosts back in front with a simple penalty, and they seemed certain to score again after le Roux had sparked a length-of-the-pitch break with a broken-field run from within his own 22, but the opportunity came to nothing when Whitelock conceded the cynical penalty for which he was sin-binned. The Boks now seemed certain to score again, and to defeat the All Blacks for the second time in as many years at Ellis Park; but that scenario failed to take in the championship qualities of the All Blacks, who know how to win in adversity.

Kieran Read and Lima Sopoaga celebrate their victory © Getty Images
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