South Africa 24-25 New Zealand: All Blacks hold off gutsy Springboks
Last Updated: 07/10/17 8:08pm
New Zealand were pushed every step of the way by a spirited South African side on their way to completing a clean sweep of Rugby Championship victories with a 25-24 win on Saturday.
A 76th-minute penalty from Lima Sopoaga provided a sufficient cushion to withstand South Africa's final advances in a physical and intense encounter at DHL Newlands Stadium.
The penalty came as a result of a late challenge on the fly-half from Damian de Allande, which saw the centre shown a red card, but the margin between the two sides never went beyond five points - a far cry from the 57-0 hammering New Zealand inflicted on the Springboks just three weeks ago in Albany.
South Africa stood up to their opponents physically, caused them issues at the breakdown, and will feel hard done by not to have come away with a monumental victory in Cape Town.
Elton Jantjies ensured that South Africa struck first on the scoreboard after Sam Whitelock was penalised for an illegal poach at the ruck on the 10-minute mark.
Off the restart, the Springboks immediately conceded a penalty as captain Eben Etzebeth strayed offside and Beauden Barrett made no mistake with his first penalty kick of the game.
Barrett was then instrumental in the visitors' first try of the night as he charged down his opposite number and put a neat chip through and although Jesse Kriel raced back for South Africa, he couldn't control the ball, allowing Ryan Crotty to pounce for the five-pointer with 30 minutes gone.
When referee Jérôme Garcès set up a scrum as the hooter sounded the assumption was the half would end soon after, but both sides had other ideas, with another 10 minutes of action before the break.
On 47 minutes, South Africa turned down a kickable penalty and opted for the lineout and while Ruan Dreyer came close, New Zealand eventually won the penalty and kicked it out for an 8-3 half-time lead.
Malcolm Marx was everywhere after the break - going forwards and at the breakdown - and came close to scoring before Ross Cronje did cross the line, allowing Jantjies' conversion to push them 10-8 ahead.
But New Zealand continued to threaten on the counter and an over-zealous pass gifted possession to Rieko Ioane who flew upfield for a breakaway score. Liam Sopoaga, on the field for Beauden Barrett, then converted to nudge New Zealand back ahead with 20 minutes to go.
The final quarter was as breathtaking as the rest of the game as both sides jostled to take full control of the match and the lead exchanged hands.
South African levelled again at 15-15 when Jean-Luc du Preez benefited from a delightful inside ball from Marx - Handre Pollard adding the extras to push them in front.
But Steve Hansen's side weren't done as Damian McKenzie ripped the field apart having been put into space by David Havili. Sopoaga's conversion then put the visitors 17-22 ahead with nine minutes to play.
Five minutes later Sopoaga went for a drop-goal and a late charge on him by de Allande saw the South African centre handed a red card.
The game restarted with a penalty that Sopoaga slotted, but despite having just 14 on the field, South Africa still had the last word.
In the final minute, Marx capped a fine display with a five-pointer of his own and Jantjies' conversion made it a very nervy finish for the visitors.