DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - New Zealand swept aside the Aaron Smith scandal, and South Africa, to equal the top-tier record for consecutive test victories with a 57-15 hammering of its old rival in the final round of the Rugby Championship on Saturday.
The masterful All Blacks scored a record nine tries to none from the Springboks, put 45 points past the Boks in the second half, and won the last 20 minutes 35-0 for their heaviest win in the 95-year rivalry.
It sets New Zealand up for a record-breaking 18th straight victory when it plays Australia in two weeks, but away from that winning streak, the compelling Kings Park performance will resound through rugby all on its own.
“Confidence is a massive thing,” coach Steve Hansen said. “This team is very confident, full of confidence in their own abilities without being arrogant. We work hard on trying to play a good brand of rugby and at the same time win test matches. At the moment it’s working for us.”
It gave New Zealand a sixth bonus-point win out of six games in the Southern Hemisphere tournament. Rugby’s world champion and top-ranked team had already won the tournament with rounds to spare, its 14th Southern Hemisphere title in 21 attempts.
Scrumhalf TJ Perenara — starting in place of Smith, who was suspended for the game for misconduct — scored two tries, as did winger Israel Dagg, and flyhalf Beauden Barrett. New Zealand kept coming and coming, with fullback Ben Smith and replacements Codie Taylor and Liam Squire adding late tries, with Squire’s after the final hooter.
South Africa could muster only five penalties from Morne Steyn. At the end, Springboks fans applauded as the All Blacks, the enemy, took a lap of honor around the field.
Before the game, the controversy over Smith’s encounter with a woman in an airport toilet last month, and his exit from the tour of South Africa, threatened to undermine the All Blacks’ preparations.
New Zealand responded with a 17th straight win, and possibly this team’s best, continuing a run that began in August 2015 and equaling the record set by New Zealand in 1965-69 and 2013-14, and South Africa in 1997-98.
This squad, verging on unbeatable when at its best, might deserve to hold the record outright after Saturday.
New Zealand’s record margin of victory — eclipsing the 36 in 2003 at Loftus Versfeld — could have been even bigger at Kings Park if not for a couple of uncharacteristic errors on attack early in the first half and an off-night from the kicking tee by Barrett.
Australia tops Argentina
Australia pounced on Argentina errors to ground out an underwhelming 33-21 win at Twickenham and finish second in the Rugby Championship on Saturday.
The Pumas dominated possession, territory, and passing stats, and forced the Wallabies to make more than twice the number of tackles, but they were the architects of their own demise with knock-ons and poor passes, and gifted all four of Australia’s tries.
A poor clearance by Pumas fullback Joaquin Tuculet straight to Dane Haylett-Petty finished with Adam Coleman needing all of his 204-cm frame to plant the ball over the line in the sixth minute. And at the end of the first half, a Pumas misthrow at a lineout launched a Wallabies attack featuring Haylett-Petty on the right, and center Samu Kerevi on the left bumping off one defender and stretching out over another.
Australia played 20 minutes down a man after forwards Michael Hooper and Coleman were sin-binned for high tackles, but despite a man advantage, the Pumas scored only eight points.
The Wallabies finished the penalty-ridden first half leading 18-8.