Semifinal victory slips from Junior All Blacks
Poor finishing cost the Junior All Blacks dearly in their IRB Junior World Championship semifinal tonight, going down 32-25 to South Africa.
New Zealand had two golden opportunities to score tries in the first half but dropped the ball, and the ruthless South Africans made them pay.
The two teams took the intensity of the tournament to a new level at North Harbour Stadium, in what was the game of the tournament.
South Africa now plays England in the final on Friday night at Eden Park, while New Zealand will battle Ireland for third.
New Zealand had the better of the first half, despite the drops, although it was a dubious refereeing decision which allowed them to grab a lead at the break.
Hooker Hame Faiva had New Zealand on the board after only four minutes, finishing off a flowing New Zealand attack.
It all started with a successful New Zealand lineout on their own 22m, and finished when the ball came back to Faiva on the left wing, and he dived home for the score.
New Zealand were dominating possession, with South Africa forced to kick the ball out of their own half.
South Africa did eventually have a meaningful attack 10 minutes into the match, but New Zealand held firm.
It was an error which allowed South Africa to get on the board, winger Vince Tavae-Aso’s inside pass intercepted by South African captain Handre Pollard, and he ran home for the try.
From there it was all New Zealand, but the finishing touches were missing.
Damian McKenzie made a stunning break through the South African line and looked destined to score, only for a last ditch tackle from Warrick Gelant to force a fumble, and then prop Tau Koloamatangi dropped the ball as he dived for the line.
With 28 minutes gone it was time for Argentinian referee Federico Anselmi to make a poor yellow card call, sending South African second five Andre Esterhuizen to the bin for a dangerous tackle.
The tackle on Richie Mo’unga was hard, but not illegal.
New Zealand outscored South Africa 10-3 while Esterhuizen was off the field, through a Tevita Li converter try and McKenzie penalty, while Pollard struck a penalty of his own.
McKenzie added another penalty after the break, but it was Sergeal Petersen who had the first try of the second half, streaking home after claiming a box kick by JP Smith.
South Africa then snatched the lead after 56 minutes, Pollard slotting a penalty after New Zealand were caught not releasing.
The South Africans were starting to dominate in the fashion they had done in the last match against New Zealand, but McKenzie then sparked the Baby Blacks back to life.
His run through the South African line gave his team the jolt they needed, and from there they put up more of a contest.
Tavae-Aso then made up for his earlier loose pass, scoring in the corner after a rare poor throw from South African hooker Corniel Els in a lineout.
South Africa came right back through Esterhuizen, diving over in the right corner, tying the match at 25-all with 10 minutes to play.
The final 10 minutes were incredibly tense, and it was South Africa who held their nerve, Els getting over the line with two minutes to play as part of a driving maul.
England earlier hammered Ireland 42-15 in the other semifinal, booking their place in the final.