New Zealand have stopped the bleeding.
After three successive losses, the All Blacks finally returned to winning ways with a convincing 35-23 Rugby Championship win over the Springboks in front of more than 61,000 fans at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.
They came into this match with coach Ian Forster under tremendous pressure but they responded with a solid performance that denied the Boks an opportunity to register back-to-back wins over their rivals.
This win means the tournament remains wide open and the Springboks have all to do in their remaining matches against Australia and Argentina if they are to be crowned champions.
It was a performance where New Zealand’s senior players Jordie Barrett, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Sam Cane, Sam Whitelock and Richie Mo’ounga turned up to relieve pressure on their beleaguered coach.
For the Boks, the likes of Lukhanyo Am, Eben Etzebeth, Handré Pollard, Duane Vermeulen, on his return, and Pieter-Steph du Toit once again impressed, albeit for a losing cause.
It was another solid performance with the boot by Pollard who ended his shift with 13 points from two conversions and three penalties.
The Boks now turn their attention to their trip to Australia where they have back-to-back clashes against the Wallabies Down Under as this competition continues to gain momentum.
The Boks lacked intensity in the first half in which the All Blacks scored two tries through Sam Cane and Samisoni Taukei’aho but they returned from the break with more purpose.
The home side suffered a serious numerical blow inside five minutes when influential fullback Damian Willemse was sent to the bin for a dangerous tackle on an All Blacks player.
Things got worse minutes later as the Boks suffered a blow when Jesse Kriel had to leave the field with what looked like a serious head injury after a tackle and was replaced by Willie le Roux.
It was a cruel blow for Kriel as he only started the match at wing because Kurt-Lee Arendse was suspended for an unsporting tackle on Beauden Barrett in Mbombela last weekend.
Fortunately for the Boks, Williemse’s time off the field did not come at a huge price as he returned to the field with the score still level at 0-0.
Finally, there was something on the scoreboard deep into the first half and it came from the educated boot of Mo’unga who found the middle of the poles with his penalty.
The All Blacks were on the up and soon after scored their first but unconverted try through the efforts of captain Sam Cane who touched down near the far side flag.
New Zealand’s second try arrived a few minutes later and it was drilled by Samisoni Taukei’aho as he powered home despite attention on the edge of the try line.
SA roared back into the game with a try by Am that was converted by Pollard a few minutes from the halftime break as they narrowed the gap to eight points.
The last piece of action of the first half saw Pollard drill a penalty after the hooter from 50m as the Boks went to the break five points adrift and the Boks flyhalf started the second stanza with another penalty.
Mo’unga added six points from the boot as the All Blacks tried to take control of the match but the Boks responded swiftly with a stunning try from Makazole Mapimpi to make it a one point game.
With 13 minutes to play, the Boks received a significant shot in the arm when Beauden Barrett was given a yellow card for obstruction and from the resultant penalty Pollard gave the Boks the lead for the first time.
But David Havili and Scott Barrett settled this match in the closing stages with two quick tries that were converted by Mo’unga as the All Blacks roared back to winning ways.
SA (10) 23
New Zealand (15) 35
Tries: Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi
Conversions: Handré Pollard (2)
Penalties: Handré Pollard (3)
Tries: Sam Cane, Samisoni Taukei’aho, David Havili, Scott Barrett
Conversion: Richie Mo’unga (3)
Penalties: Richie Mo’unga (3)
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