All Blacks defeat Springboks in epic test
The All Blacks have pulled off the double act, breaking their 16-year Ellis Park hoodoo with a remarkable 38-27 win to clinch the defence of their Rugby Championship crown against the Springboks this morning.
This match, one the rugby world had waited for, will go down as one of the all time greats. As predicted, there was carnage. At times maimed bodies were strewn all over the park and it was played at a frenetic pace throughout, with the lead interchanging four times.
This time it was the All Blacks turn to twice battle with 14-men.
As the Boks gained ascendancy, the crazed 60,634 crowd sensed a feeding frenzy, willing their team on, but it didn't matter. The outsiders held their nerve to claim just their fourth win - to go with those in 1997, 1992 and 1928 - in 12 attempts at the spiritual home of South African rugby.
Jean de Villiers scored the all-important fourth try bonus point in the 60th minute but, after being steamrolled by the Boks captain, replacement first five-eighth Beauden Barrett went one better by sealing the trophy with the All Blacks fourth try. Barrett also showed pace to pull off a crucial try-saving tackle after wing Willie le Roux pinched an intercept in the dying stages.
Ben Franks was in danger of being forced to sleep outside after his rush-of-blood. Just after Barrett snatched back the lead, Franks' swinging arm saw him yellow carded. Steve Hansen's reaction in the All Blacks coaching box said it all. It was an unnecessary action that could have cost his side the game.
This came after referee Nigel Owens sent two-try merchant Liam Messam to the bin for an infringement at a ruck just after half-time. The penalty was justified but the yellow card was questionable in the context of the match. Given what happened at Eden Park, everyone wanted a fair 15-on-15 contest.
There were countless heroes for the All Blacks, who became the first team to record 50 test wins against the Boks and extended this year's unbeaten run to nine games.
After returning from a knee injury one week early, Richie McCaw again defied the odds to play 80 minutes. All the forwards were all immense, again proving they can not only match but better the Boks vaunted physicality. Man of the match Kieran Read was a standout.
The scene was set early for an epic occasion.
To emulate events at the 1995 World Cup final, a 747 plane flew over and within touching distance of the stadium roof three times before kick-off. It was a rare and astonishing sight which had the passionate crowd roar as one.
The All Blacks' tactic was to weather the early storm, get through to half-time and regroup from there. But they did much more than that.
The two best sides in the world delivered and more. In the brutal first-half alone two Boks players didn't survive. Flanker Willem Alberts had to be taken off in a stretcher with a protective neck brace and after scoring two tries wing Bryan Habana limped off with a freak hamstring injury.
Starting well was crucial to quell the rampant locals and the All Blacks did just that. They won the opening kick-off, and then Ben Smith scored a brilliant first try. After receiving a typically classy off-load from Kieran Read, Smith beat four defenders in silky fashion.
Out wide, though, the Boks stretched the All Blacks on five occasions. Julian Savea was left stranded at least three times.
Habana brought the crowd back to life with two tries in as many minutes. No.8 Duane Vermeulen sparked the first by beating prop Charlie Faumuina and putting Habana away and, with one-handed off-load, lock Eben Etzebeth gave the left wing space again. He chipped Smith and re-gathered for a superb finish.
Suddenly, the Boks had their tails up, only for Messam to match Habana's feats.
With driving support from big Brodie Retallick, Messam barged his way over but it was his strike on the stroke of half-time to put the All Blacks ahead 21-15 that was vital. The visitors would have been content going in one point down. Messam's brace was a bonus.
With Messam off the field, wing le Roux crossed for the Boks third and the lead. About now Hansen turned to his bench, giving Dane Coles, Barrett, Franks and Wyatt Crocket their boarding passes all in quick succession.
The All Blacks battled gallantly with 14-men. Defiant defence, particularly around the rolling maul, was a feature. It was absorbing to watch.
Under Heyneke Meyer the Boks are still yet to claim a win over the All Blacks and this result should go some way to killing off the fallout from Eden Park.
The dawn of a new era in South African rugby has some way to go to match Hansen's men.
After this, there can be no doubts. The All Blacks remain the best rugby team on the planet.
New Zealand 38 (Liam Messam 2, Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett, Kieran Read tries; Aaron Cruden 3 conversions, Barrett 2 conversions, penalty) South Africa 27 (Bryan Habana 2, Willie le Roux, Jean de Villiers tries; Morne Steyn 2 conversions, penalty). HT: 21-15
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS
NOTE: Tri-Nations from 1996-2011. Argentina joined in 2012.