Jordie Barrett’s 78th-minute penalty snatched a 19-17 victory for New Zealand against South Africa in their Rugby Championship encounter in Townsville on Saturday.
This was the 100th Test between these sides and it lived up to the hype as the match was in the balance throughout, with the All Blacks’ triumph meaning they have won the tournament.
Both sides scored a try apiece with Will Jordan crossing for the All Blacks and Sbu Nkosi dotting down for the Springboks. Full-back Barrett scored all New Zealand’s other points courtesy of a conversion and four penalties and Handre Pollard also added four three-pointers off the kicking tee for South Africa.
South Africa came into this game under tremendous pressure – after losing their two previous Tests against the Wallabies – but they delivered a much improved and more competitive performance which did justice to their status as world champions.
The All Blacks made a terrific start and three minutes into the game Codie Taylor tore the Springbok defence to shreds with a powerful carry from just inside his half. He was soon inside his opponents’ territory where he offloaded to Jordan, who outpaced the cover defence on his way over the try-line.
Shortly afterwards, the Springboks struck back in bizarre fashion. This, when George Bridge failed to gather a routine bomb from Faf de Klerk inside his 22 and Nkosi pounced on the loose ball before crossing for an easy five-pointer.
Pollard’s conversion attempt was wide of the mark but he made up for that miss when he landed a penalty in the 10th minute after Brodie Retallick was blown up for obstruction.
Two minutes later, the All Black second-row was penalised again and Pollard succeeded with a long-range goal-kick which meant the world champions were leading 11-7 by the 12th minute.
The next 20 minutes was a slugfest with the sides giving their all to gain the ascendancy and their contrasting styles was evident throughout, with the Boks’ tactic of trying to slow proceedings down countered by the All Blacks’ expansive style of play.
New Zealand managed to breach the Boks’ defence on a couple of occasions but their execution was not of its usual high standards, although they managed to narrow the gap to a point when Barrett landed his first penalty on the half-hour mark.
Five minutes later, South Africa were reduced to 14 men when Nkosi was yellow carded for a deliberate knock down deep inside his 22 and Barrett slotted the resulting penalty which gave his side a 13-11 lead at half-time.
The All Blacks were fastest out of the blocks after the interval and soon after the restart they were camped close to the Springboks’ try-line only for Nepo Laulala to knock on a short pass from TJ Perenara.
The attritional nature to the game continued with neither side giving an inch and we had to wait until the 58th minute for the first points of the half when Pollard added another penalty after foul play from the All Blacks deep inside their half.
That lead did not last long as on the hour-mark Barrett succeeded with his third penalty after the Boks strayed offside on defence.
The final quarter was a tense affair with South Africa upping the ante in possession and in the 67th minute they launched an attack from a lineout inside New Zealand’s 22. And when the All Blacks’ strayed offside on defence, Pollard stepped up to add his fourth penalty which put his team in front for the last time.
There was plenty of end-to-end action as the game drew to a close and in its dying moments Willie le Roux was penalised for holding onto the ball on the ground, leaving Barrett a difficult shot from distance, but he held his nerve to slot the match-winning three points.