JOHANNESBURG - New Zealand came from behind to beat South Africa 27-20 in the Rugby Championship on Saturday, laying down a big marker for its World Cup defense in two months.
The top-ranked All Blacks overcame their closest rivals in the rankings at the Springboks’ favorite ground, and did it with a significant possession deficit and their backs pinned to the wall for much of the game.
New Zealand still scored three tries to South Africa’s two at Ellis Park, with captain Richie McCaw marking his last test on South African soil with the game-clincher with seven minutes to go, and after the All Blacks endured waves of attacks.
“You’ve got to keep hanging in there,” McCaw said. “That comes down to a bit of belief, and I guess guys holding their nerve.”
South Africa had tries through fullback Willie le Roux and center Jesse Kriel to open leads in each half. New Zealand replied both times through wing Ben Smith and hooker Dane Coles, before McCaw put them ahead for good with a set move from a lineout, and the try that knocked the stuffing out of the Springboks.
Debutant flyhalf Lima Sopoaga added a penalty on the fulltime hooter for good measure.
“They showed tonight why they are so tough to beat,” South Africa captain Schalk Burger said.
McCaw’s try came after the Springboks camped on the All Blacks’ line for ages, attacking the tryline repeatedly and being stopped each time. Clear favorite for the Rugby World Cup in England, the All Blacks showed guts and composure in defense, and a typically lethal cutting edge in attack when it counted.
Coach Steve Hansen paid tribute to that unrelenting defense.
“If they had scored there it would have been very hard to come back,” Hansen said.
The victory over a desperate Springboks team also gained some important revenge for the loss New Zealand had at the same ground in Johannesburg last October, still the All Blacks’ only defeat in the last three years.
South Africa has lost back-to-back games to Australia and the All Blacks after being ahead, and on top heading into the final 10 minutes.