Planet Rugby

All Blacks prevail in Wellington

05th July 2008 10:19

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nonu Jacobs

Blind Faith: New Zealand centre Ma'a Nonu finds some space outside Adrian Jacobs

New Zealand opened their Tri-Nations account with an abrasive 19-8 win over South Africa at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday, coming off the ropes after the Boks had silenced the sodden crowd with a fine first-half performance that featured a try from Bryan Habana.

But the All Blacks refused to lose their cool and bounced back in the second-half by scoring ten unanswered points that included a try from Jerome Kaino.

Credit must go to the Boks - they matched the All Blacks in every asset of play. They stood toe-to-toe in defence and found more holes in attack than the Irish and English had managed in three games.

Indeed, New Zealand's quest to notch up a 30th consecutive victory on home soil might have been foiled had it not been for one factor: Dan Carter.

The golden boy of world rugby found himself under siege in the early stages of the match, but a number of off-the-ball incidents and late hits failed to ruffle his majestic features. Nor the appalling conditions. Nor the absence of his Praetorian Guard, Richie McCaw.

An early miss at the sticks had the Boks hoping that the rough-housing had done the trick, but the fly-half regather his composure and went on to set up Kaino's try and collect 14 points.

He also thought his team out of a deep hole.

The All Blacks had attempted to use the ELVs to their advantage and play the game at a high tempo. Keeping the ball in hand also reduced the threat of South Africa's peerless line-out - indeed, it was the 31st minute before they got a throw-in.

But the conditions just weren't suited to warp-speed rugby. South Africa's brutal defensive effort put the brakes on New Zealand's aspirations and spawned plenty of counter-attacking opportunities, with Habana punctuating one with a trademark score.

A more measured approach to the second-half was needed, and Carter duly delivered, opting to substitute his side's aerobic exertions with a little clear thinking.

Carter's missed penalty stemmed directly from an off-the-ball encounter with his opposite number, Butch James.

He made amends just seconds later after the Boks strayed off-side, but James soon responded with a penalty of his own after Brad Thorn was pinged for a late and extremely reckless challenge on John Smit.

The ferocious nature of the opening minutes showed no sign of abating with Thorn and Ali Williams - in his 50th Test - putting in some thunderous tackles and generally making their presence felt in the tight exchanges.

New Zealand certainly had the better at scrum time, putting the world champions under immense pressure and, despite the conditions, their ball retention was generally good.

The Boks on the other hand hardly saw the ball and when they did opted to kick, often without much success.

Carter extended his side's lead to 6-3 with another penalty in the 20th minute when Smit - playing under the ELVs for the first time - was penalised for offside.

James wasted an opportunity to close the gap when Andrew Hore was penalised for offside in the 25th minute but Carter made no mistake with his fourth attempt of the night when Boks number eight Joe van Niekerk, who had put team-mate Adrian Jacobs under huge pressure in his own 22 with an awful pass, then compounded the error by being caught offside.

Then four minutes before half-time and against the run of play, lightning quick wing Bryan Habana dived over for the opening try of the match.

The All Blacks turned over possession at the breakdown in the Boks half and a well-weighted pass from Jacobs found fellow midfielder Jean de Villiers who burst through the gap before sending Habana in at the corner.

James failed to add the conversion and the All Blacks held on for a slender 9-8 lead at the break.

The All Blacks were quick out of the blocks in the second half with Jerome Kaino scoring his first international try and Carter adding a brilliant touch-line conversion for a 16-8 lead.

Kaino should have had a second in the 57th minute when he chased a Carter cross-field kick but assistant referee James Leckie ruled he had been ahead of the fly-half.

Both teams rang the changes in the second period and Francois Steyn, who came on for James, fired a speculative long-range drop-goal in a bid to close the gap but watched as it dropped just short.

Inevitably, it was Carter who had the final say, slotting his fourth and final penalty of the night with nine minutes to play.

Man of the match: If a doubter remains, Conrad Jantjes silenced the moron with a commanding performance in difficult conditions, Enrico Januarie offered yap and scrap at the base of a harassed scrum, and Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers offered up their signature dish of brawn and brain. Rodney So'oialo led with authority and was ably assisted by Ali Williams, the rarest of beasts: a kicking lock! Meanwhile, Jerome Kaino proved to be a handful for the Boks and destroyed the doubts over New Zealand's back-row unit, and Ma'a Nonu instilled fear and loathing across the Bok backline. But how can we look past Dan Carter? So astute with his options, so elegant in attack, so solid in defence.

Moment of the match: Jerome Kaino's score proved to be the turning point, but we'll opt for Bryan Habana's try. It was a canny collective effort that gave hope to Wallabies and Springboks alike. It seemed to prove that these All Blacks can be beaten at their own game of hitting at speed on the counter-attack.

Villian of the match: Plenty of amateur refereeing on display, but that could be down to the shaky professional on show - poor Stuart Dickinson had trouble with the ELVs (or, rather, version 1.3 of the ELVs!) with more than one penalty signal quickly morphing into a bent arm! But our award goes to Brad Thorn, who was lucky to escape the sin-bin after taking exception to John Smit off the ball and after the whistle.

The scorers:

For New Zealand:

Try: Kaino

Con: Carter

Pens: Carter 4

For South Africa:

Try: Habana

Pen: James

The teams:

New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Rodney So'oialo (c), 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.

Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Neemia Tialata, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Sione Lauaki, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Leon MacDonald.

South Africa: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Enrico Januarie, 8 Joe van Niekerk, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 CJ van der Linde, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.

Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Brian Mujati, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Luke Watson, 20 Bolla Conradie, 21 Francois Steyn, 22 Percy Montgomery.

Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)

Touch judges: Matt Goddard, James Leckie (Australia)

Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)

Assessor: Michel Lamoulie (France)

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