New Zealand remain unbeaten in the Rugby Championship after a narrow 14-10 win over South Africa at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday. It took eleven minutes for the scoring to be opened courtesy of an Aaron Cruden penalty after sustained All Blacks pressure. It was clear the Springboks were looking to employ a kicking game in the wet conditions but territory advantage was overwhelmingly in favour of the New Zealanders in the first 15 minutes.
Despite giving away around 70% of territory it was the South Africans who would score the first try. From a line out the visitors went down the line, set up a ruck before going down the back line again, and an inside pass sent Cornal Hendricks straight through the home defence. Handre Pollard’s conversion made it 7-3.
Unable to break the Bok barrier, the hosts slotted another penalty courtesy of Cruden and on 23 minutes it was 7-6. Heyneke Meyer lost Ruan Pienaar to injury as he was carried off with five minutes to play in the first half and replaced by Francois Hougaard. Just before the break Victor Matfield was penalised, perhaps harshly, for not rolling away at the breakdown but Cruden missed the penalty as Meyer’s men led 7-6 at half-time.
A stunning try by Richie McCaw handed New Zealand the lead in the second half on 47 minutes. A superb cross kick by Cruden was caught by Kieran Read, who beat Jean De Villiers, and offloaded superbly to McCaw who went over in the corner despite a desperate tackle attempt by Jan Serfontein. Cruden’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful but the All Blacks were in the lead 11-7.
South Africa could have been in more trouble five minutes later when a loose ball was pounced on by Aaron Smith whose football skills nearly saw him cross the line for the Kiwis but Willie Le Roux outsprinted the scrumhalf to save the day for the visitors. The South Africans came back when Pollard slotted a drop goal from around 40 metres out to make it 11-10 on the stroke of 56 minutes in what was shaping up as a nail biting Test match between these two old rugby foes. Pollard then attempted an audacious 50 metre penalty attempt but it shaved the right-hand upright with 17 minutes still to play.
The advantage was extended courtesy of a Beauden Barrett penalty and it was 14-10 with 14 minutes to play. Looking for the victory, the visitors surged forward and won a penalty with six minutes to play and captain De Villiers opted to kick for touch instead of the three points. The Springboks won the line out from five metres out and played the phases as the desperately looked for what could be the winning try.
The scenario repeated itself but this time the take was not as clean and the South Africans were actually driven back five metres but they held on to possession. A forward pass from Hougaard ended the Springbok surge however the away side won it back from the resultant scrum and would have one last shot with 45 seconds left. However, Hansen’s side would hold on for a 14-10 victory in what turned out to be a great game of rugby.