MBOMBELA, South Africa (AP) — South Africa ground down an out-of-form New Zealand to win 26-10 in the Rugby Championship opener on Saturday and pile the pressure on the All Blacks with their fifth loss in six games.
The latest blow for the All Blacks following an historic home series loss to Ireland last month was their biggest defeat to the Springboks for nearly 100 years.
The Springboks scored two tries at Mbombela Stadium, one at the start by wing Kurt-Lee Arendse and one right at the end by replacement back Willie le Roux as the All Blacks launched a desperate late attack from their own 22 in an attempt to salvage some pride.
“Yeah, we’re bitterly disappointed,” All Blacks captain Sam Cane said. “To come out on the wrong side on the scoreboard really hurts, but a lot of credit must go to South Africa, they’re a very good side. They threw a heck of a lot at us.”
The Springboks were in control throughout and had a big territorial advantage to work with, although they finished with 14 men after Arendse was issued a red card in the 75th minute — while he was lying flat out receiving medical attention — for a highly dangerous charge in the air on Beauden Barrett.
Barrett was OK while Arendse left on a stretcher, the second Bok to do so. Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk knocked himself out attempting a tackle on New Zealand wing Caleb Clarke after just 43 seconds.
South Africa shrugged off that early complication to settle into a gameplan aimed at strangling New Zealand and cutting off any chance for the All Blacks backs to get going.
It was highly effective. Arendse scored the first try in the eighth minute after a smart offload by center Lukhanyo Am and the Springboks set about subduing the All Blacks with their scrummaging, merciless defense and persistent tactical kicking, which kept New Zealand pinned in its own half for long periods.
Springboks flyhalf Handré Pollard kicked 16 points to make the territorial advantage count.
“It was a grind,” Springboks captain Siya Kolisi said. “Exactly what we wanted.”
With the Boks 19-3 up and heading for a big win, the All Blacks finally broke clear of the home defense in the dying minutes with a bust by Clarke. He was dragged down just short by fullback Damian Willemse but replacement forward Shannon Frizell was on hand to score the All Blacks’ only try with two minutes to go to make it 19-10.
The consolation barely lasted a minute as Frizell dropped a pass from Cane as the All Blacks tried to attack from in front of their tryline, allowing le Roux to kick ahead, flop on the ball over the line and seal the win.
The margin of victory for the Springboks was their biggest over the All Blacks since 1928 and up there with New Zealand’s heaviest defeats.
The All Blacks must play a second test against South Africa next week at Ellis Park in Johannesburg — the Boks’ favorite ground — and coach Ian Foster’s job is hanging by a thread, as is the future of flanker Cane as the leader of the team.
Rugby’s most successful team was already in the midst of its worst run in 24 years after last month’s shock against Ireland and is dangerously close to its worst set of results ever.
Another loss against the world champion and New Zealand’s biggest rival next Saturday would see Foster fired, New Zealand media has reported, throwing the All Blacks into some turmoil just over a year out from the Rugby World Cup in France.
“We travel down to Joburg tomorrow and start looking at the next test and throw everything at that,” Cane said. “I can’t ask any more of the team in terms of the belief and the effort they’re putting out there. We’ll fight to the last minute every time.”
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