After five losses from their last six tests, including three defeats in a row, and with unwanted records mounting, the All Blacks summoned their brilliant best to snap their funk and bring the world champions down to earth. Video / Sky Sports
All Blacks 35 South Africa 23
Ellis Park does it again. Rugby’s most intimidating arena turned on another epic battle with these two great foes delivering drama only they can.
Set against the tense, fraught backdrop of sustained pressure on Ian Foster’s under-siege coaching tenure, the All Blacks rocked up to the home of South African rugby, and turned the form book on its head to emerge with an emphatic bonus point Rugby Championship victory that does not tell the toll it took to achieve.
Whether this heroic four-tries-to-two result is enough to save Foster’s embattled term remains to be seen but, for now at least, the All Blacks deserve to celebrate one of their great upset triumphs.
After five losses from their last six tests, including three defeats in a row, and with unwanted records mounting, the All Blacks summoned their brilliant best to snap their funk and bring the world champions down to earth.
Prior to kickoff a 737 plane twice swooped low over the stadium roof to ignite the raucous 62,000 crowd and emulate similar to the fever pitch scenes from the 1995 World Cup final and stunning 2013 test.
The action on the pitch certainly lived up to the hype, too.
The All Blacks played themselves into the ground.
On attack, under the high ball, at the breakdown and with their dominant carries, this was a vastly improved performance. Defensively the All Blacks were superb, too.
With lungs bursting at altitude the All Blacks never stopped believing, never stopped backing themselves despite trailing late.
David Havili’s try, after Rieko Ioane’s break, in the 74th minute launched the comeback after the All Blacks fell behind for the first time. Scott Barrett then finished the job to showcase the true character of this team.
Turning points, there were a few.
Beauden Barrett’s yellow card – for taking Springboks halfback Jaden Hendrikse out as he chased a Fletcher Newell knock on – handed South Africa their first lead in the 67th minute but the All Blacks refused to fold.
The All Blacks suffered 15-0 after their best first half performance of the year but they were inevitably forced to withstand South Africa’s revival.
A five minute period midway through the second half when the All Blacks repelled three Springboks maul attempts on their own line, and then forced a turnover, encapsulates their backs-to-the-wall efforts.
Springboks wing Makazole Mapimpi had a second half try ruled out, which set the locals alight, due to obstruction. Richie Mo’unga knocked over the penalty to give the All Blacks an eight point lead – only for that to be short-lived.
Instead of clearing his line under pressure Mo’unga was caught, turned over, and this time Mapimpi could not be denied to bring the Boks within one point.
Such was the rollercoaster ride this captivating contest bottled.
All Blacks hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho and blindside Shannon Frizell produced consistently powerful carries to launch the visitors on the front foot. The All Blacks lineout, led by Sam Whitelock, was also vital while Mo’unga’s maiden start at first five-eighth sparked the attack. Mo’unga’s notable depth, the width of his passing and controlled kicking display gave the All Blacks much-needed direction throughout.
Led by a strong set piece, the All Blacks banished four poor starts to flick the script, put the Springboks under pressure and take the sting out of the manic crowd.
Havili created the first of many first half breaks with a chip to put Ardie Savea into space. Savea went close to scoring and, from the resulting ruck, Springbok fullback Damian Willemse was yellow carded for a professional foul. The All Blacks opted for the scrum five meters out, only for in-form hooker Taukei’aho to concede a technical infringement.
While the All Blacks failed to score with Willemse in the bin a dominant effort from their forward pack ensured they consistently broke the Boks defence.
Mo’unga slotted the first points in the 25th minute after sparking an ambitious counter attack from inside the All Blacks 22. Havili, Will Jordan and Ioane linked to charge deep into South Africa’s half.
Caleb Clarke, heavily involved off his wing, was next to bust through the middle of the park. A few offloads and phases later and Sam Cane crashed over in the corner.
By now the All Blacks had a roll on. For the first time in recent memory they exuded confidence. When Taukei’aho snuck around the short side for the second strike, and Mo’unga landed the sideline conversion, the All Blacks led 15-0.
The Boks immediately turned to their bench, injecting replacement prop Vincent Koch and loose forward Jasper Wiese. From the maul Lukhanyo Am brushed off Clarke in the left-hand corner to bring the Boks back into the contest.
Right on half time the All Blacks conceded their only full scrum penalty. Handre Pollard stepped up to land the 55 meter kick and close within five points – a margin that did not reflect the All Blacks’ dominance.
Despite the Springboks throwing everything, and the crowd baying for blood, throughout the second half, the All Blacks held their nerve.
Foster’s future remains in the balance – as it will ultimately be judged on the three loss, two win record this year – but he has every reason to smile after presiding over a victory few New Zealanders believed was possible.
All Blacks 28 (Sam Cane, Samisoni Taukei’aho, David Havili, Scott Barrett tries; Richie Mo’unga 3 cons, 3 pens) South Africa 23 (Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi tries; Handre Pollard 2 cons, 3 pens)