All Blacks weather Springbok storm to emerge victorious in Johannesburg
A late try to Richie McCaw from a clever lineout move has earned the All Blacks a 27-20 victory over the Springboks at Ellis Park, Johannesburg.
Captain and openside flanker McCaw, having kept his side calm when Sam Whitelock was sent to the sin bin with a yellow card in the 59th minute for being offside, completed the set-piece magic by standing at halfback and then taking the ball to dart over almost unopposed.
The moment McCaw charged over in the 73 minute the 61,000 crowd, sensing the New Zealanders were not going to be denied in the freezing conditions, started to leave their seats. It proved the right decision with debutant first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga kicking a penalty in the final moments to put the result beyond doubt.
AS IT HAPPENED: All Blacks vs Springboks
Sopoaga impressed in his first start in black, kicking two penalties and three conversions - including a corker when he nailed the wide conversion of McCaw's five-pointer - and set-up Ben Smith's try.
The confident Sopoaga's ability to stand flat and keep the defence on their toes was notable and he often looked keen to keep the Springboks guessing.
The Saturday match (NZT Sunday) was also notable for the fact that All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, conscious of the need to assess players ahead of the World Cup, unloaded his whole bench in the second half - starting with debutant James Broadhurst being subbed by Whitelock at halftime - and the pace of their attack shifted-up a gear.
The All Blacks may have made a jittery start, but their defence in the second half was outstanding. They managed to survive a lineout drive and also denied Boks lock Lood de Jager a try by stopping him just millimetres from the line.
The Boks drew first blood when fullback Willie le Roux accelerated onto a well-timed pass by Jesse Kriel on the right-hand flank to breeze over near the left upright.
The movement began when All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg spun the ball quickly infield to No 8 Kieran Read, who was instantly monstered and robbed by Boks hooker Bismarck du Plessis. That set the alarm sirens off in the New Zealand camp; their defence was stretched too tightly and le Roux ran the perfect angle to sail into space.
The All Blacks were forced to scramble several more times in the first half as their opponents repeatedly raided the right-hand side with midfielder Damian de Allende making several strong bursts.
Kriel would have cursed his poor ball maintenance following one sharp incision having been stripped of possession by an upright Charles Piutau.
While the All Blacks wanted to attack, they were unable to squeeze the Boks because their execution repeatedly let them down. A gift three-points was spurned when Aaron Smith took a quick tap near the tryline but the movement stopped dead when Conrad Smith shelled the missile.
The errors mounted: Dagg knocked on a high ball, Ma'a Nonu got isolated following a strong carry, Piutau's erratic transfer ruined what could have been a promising attack and - uncharacteristically - the missed tackle count mounted.
It took until the 40th minute for the visitors to finally add some polish to all the spit and the result was spectacular enough for Hansen, who usually cuts a passive figure in the coaching box, to show a hint of emotion.
A ruck turnover near halfway was ripped to the right and Nonu linked with inside-runner Sopoaga who gunned downfield before looping the final transfer to right wing Ben Smith.
Piutau defused a dangerous situation when he swept from his left flank to grab a le Roux chip, but the Springboks couldn't be denied when, minutes later, Kriel burst through the tackles of Conrad Smith and Nonu for a five-pointer.
A swift reply came from the All Blacks when replacement midfielder Malakai Fekitoa popped a short-ball to place a flying Dane Coles into vacant real estate and he sailed across for his side's second try.
When McCaw added the third in the dying minutes the Springboks were left to lament the fact their fortress had been conquered.
All Blacks 27 (Ben Smith, Dane Coles, Richie McCaw tries; Lima Sopoaga 3 con, 2 pen)Springboks 20 (Willie le Roux, Jesse Kriel tries; Handre Pollard 2 con, 2 pen). HT: 10-10