Ardie Savea lived up to his star billing with a colossal try as New Zealand thrashed South Africa 41-13 to take a firm grip on the Rugby Championship in Christchurch on Saturday.
The runaway competition leaders again banked a bonus point, their fourth in four matches, to be in an almost unbeatable position in the championship with two rounds still to play.
But in the replay of last year’s World Cup semi-final at Twickenham, which the All Blacks won 20-18, they again struggled to get on top in another gripping encounter between two of rugby’s fiercest rivals.
They were only 15-10 ahead at half-time and did not begin to pull away until eight minutes into the second spell when Ardie Savea showed his devastating skill with the ball, handling twice in the move that set up Ben Smith’s try.
Savea, starting a Test for the first time, then carried two Springboks on his back as he charged over for a try of his own and after 56 minutes, with the All Blacks ahead 29-13, the outcome was obvious.
Coach Steve Hansen described it as a “satisfying performance”, particularly the way the All Blacks stifled the Springboks forward strength.
“We’ve gone out to play a game we can be proud of and not go away from the core roles we have to do,” he said.
“It’s really nice the set piece is going well and we’re also playing a brand of rugby that we can be proud of.”
Disappointed Springboks coach Allister Coetzee said basic errors cost his side.
“And that’s the difference between the two teams. The New Zealanders are very clinical, they know when to play, where to play, without making mistakes.
The All Blacks touched down six times, with Ardie Savea and Smith joined by Julian Savea, Israel Dagg, Sam Whitelock and TJ Perenare, while Beauden Barrett kicked four conversions and a penalty.
For South Africa, Bryan Habana scored an early try with Elton Jantjies landing a conversion and two penalties.
The Springboks had been widely written off before the game but stepped up against the All Blacks, producing a sterner defence than that presented by either Australia or Argentina before them.
After Beauden Barrett’s opening penalty the All Blacks dominated territory for a long period for no reward and it was against the run of play that the Springboks scored the first try.
Taking a leaf out of Argentina’s handbook from last week, Pieter-Steph du Toit charged through the All Blacks pack to get South Africa inside the All Blacks 22 where Habana sliced through for the try.
Jantjies landed the conversion to give South Africa a 7-3 lead and was then guilty of opening the way for a storming All Blacks reply.
The Springbok fly-half dropped the kick-off and from the resulting scrum Dagg scored for New Zealand and Julian Savea crossed five minutes later.
A second foray deep into All Blacks territory saw Jantjies land a close range penalty, and the All Blacks went into the second half with a five point advantage.
Between Smith and Ardie Savea’s tries, Janties landed a second penalty but the effort was starting to tell on the Springboks and the All Blacks rammed home their advantage with tries to Whitelock and Perenara in the final quarter.
The win extended the All Blacks unbeaten streak to 15 as they close in on the record of 17 consecutive wins for a tier one nation which they currently share with South Africa.
It also extended their unbeaten home run to 44 dating back to 2009 when South Africa were the last visiting team to win a Test in New Zealand with a 32-29 victory in Hamilton. – Agence France-Presse