New Zealand edge another Bok classic

Date published: July 25 2015

A late Richie McCaw try helped the All Blacks clinch a closely-fought clash with the Springboks at Ellis Park on Saturday, winning 27-20.

New Zealand have become masters of the fast finish and it was fitting that McCaw – in what was probably his last Test on South African soil – landed the killer blow against their fiercest rivals.

With the Springboks having crossed the Indian Ocean twice in the last fortnight, the last 20 minutes needed a big effort, but – as was the case last week against Australia – the Boks faded at the death of what was a thrilling game.

After being outscored three tries to two, the home side will rue a number of close calls having had their noses in front for most of the game.

The scores were locked at 10-all at the interval as Willie le Roux's early try was cancelled out by Ben Smith. 

South Africa had led for almost the entire half and looked in control but – in typical fashion – the All Blacks struck with the last play of the half to level matters. It was sign of things to come. 

Quick-fire tries from Jesse Kriel and Dane Coles early in the second stanza kept the contest tight before McCaw's late try snatched victory for the world champions.

After a poor tactical kicking display in Brisbane last week, South African coach Heyneke Meyer was looking for huge improvement but he will have mixed feelings as the Boks mixed the excellent with the mediocre when kicking from hand. 

It took the Boks less than two minutes to cheaply hand possession over to the All Blacks with a poorly directed box kick. The ensuing ruck saw the visitors awarded a penalty, which Lima Sopoaga duly slotted for his first Test points. The home crowd feared the worst. 

However, a much better kick from Ruan Pienaar was at the origin of the first try. Bismarck du Plessis caught Kieran Read in possession after Israel Dagg's pass, forcing the turnover. The ball was sent wide to Le Roux on the overlap and the full-back split the outnumbered Kiwi defenders to race home. Handré Pollard added the easy extras.

New Zealand had a golden opportunity to strike back, but Conrad Smith couldn't hang onto the snap pass from Aaron Smith, who had decided to run from a penalty dead in front of the posts.

The Boks were taking no such risks, and Pollard extended the lead with a penalty for offside play, meaning the hosts led 10-3 at the end of the first quarter. 

The visitors were clearly intent on keeping the pace of the game as high as possible and avoiding set pieces wherever possible, robbing the Boks of attacking chances from lineouts with a few quick throw-ins. 

Pollard fell short with a shot at goal from inside his own half before Sopoaga was also off target with a much easier effort.

The home side looked set to take a seven-point gap into the break but a brilliant run up the middle of the field from Sopoaga changed the complexion of the game as Ben Smith collected his fly-half's pass to cross. Sopoaga added the conversion to draw his team level.  

A knee injury meant that Bok prop Jannie du Plessis did not emerge from the tunnel for the second half, giving Vincent Koch his first taste of Test rugby. Francois Louw lasted just two minutes after the restart and home-town boy Warren Whiteley was given a huge welcome. 

Kriel backed up his brilliant try last week with another great score as he split Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith off Pollard's pop pass to sprint over. Pollard added the conversion as the Ellis Park crowd roared their approval.

The counter-punch from the All Blacks didn't take long to follow though, as Coles showed incredible pace for a hooker to charge over under the sticks. Sopoaga's extras meant it was all-square with a half-an-hour to play. 

Beauden Barrett was given a run at full-back as Dagg was taken off but it was the visitors' forwards who were in the firing line. 

The TMO ruled that Lood de Jager had placed the ball millimetres short of the line – much to the hosts bemusement – but Pollard was able to put the Boks back in front with a penalty as the All Blacks gave away a penalty under huge pressure on their line.

A break from Le Roux put the visitors under more pressure and Sam Whitelock was sent to the bin for his attempts to kill the attack. 

South Africa opted for the scrum rather than three easy points, but Eben Etzebeth was held up after a big shove for the line. A knock on from Koch – who had blood streaming from his face – meant that they failed at their second attempt as precious points were left by the wayside.

South African breathed a huge sigh of relief as a long-range shot from Sopoaga fell short of goal, allowing the Boks to take a slim lead into the final 15 minutes. 

Koch's trip to the nurse's office meant the hosts no longer had a specialist tighthead, resulting in uncontested scrums in the last 10 minutes.

Brodie Retallick was held up over the line but New Zealand went for the corner and McCaw ghosted through the middle of the lineout to bump Pienaar out the way to score an all-too-easy try in the 73rd minute. 

Sopoaga's third conversion of the night put the men in black four points ahead, forcing the home side to chase a late try. 

But it was Sopoaga who slammed home the final nail, sending over a penalty in the last minute.

Man of the match: A mention for Lood de Jager, who worked tirelessly but Charles Piutau booked his ticket to the World Cup with a faultless display on defence and an electric performance on attack. 

Moment of the match: How do they always do it? McCaw's try was another example of New Zealand's clinical execution as they came back from behind once again. 

Villain of the match: No nasty stuff to report.

The scorers:

For South Africa:
Tries: Le Roux, Kriel
Cons: Pollard 2
Pens: Pollard 2

For New Zealand:
Tries: B. Smith, Coles, McCaw
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Pens: Sopoaga 2 

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements:  16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lionel Mapoe.

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messsam, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Victor Vito, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa

Venue: Emirates Airlines Park (Ellis Park), Johannesburg
Referee: Jérôme Garcès
Assistant referees: Romain Poite, Leighton Hodges
TMO: Graham Hughes

By Ross Hastie at Ellis Park