David Havili and Scott Barrett scored late tries as New Zealand eased the pressure on their coach, Ian Foster, with a stirring comeback victory over the world champions in Johannesburg.
The All Blacks captain, Sam Cane, who has also been under severe scrutiny back home after three successive defeats, and the hooker Samisoni Taukei also scored tries as New Zealand silenced the 61,519 crowd at Ellis Park to claim a deserved win.
The Springboks were not as clinical as they had been in their 26-10 victory over the visitors last week as they scored tries through their sublime center Lukhanyo Am and wing Makazole Mapimpi, but faced inspired opponents.
Whether the victory is enough to save Foster’s job will become clear in the coming days, as New Zealand prepare to host Argentina in their next Rugby Championship encounter in a fortnight. The Springboks will travel to play Australia in a chastened mood.
The All Blacks were better in the scrum, breakdown and under the high ball, all areas they had struggled in seven days ago in Mbombela.
“Proud is an understatement,” Cane said. “Adversity really challenges your character and this group has that.
“We had to get a few parts of our game right as this is one of the toughest places in the world to come and play. We were a lot better at the breakdown and dealt with the contests better. We defended the maul well.
“That is what Test footy is all about, getting the small things right to build pressure.”
It took until the second quarter for New Zealand to open the score with a penalty but they accelerated into a 15-0 lead that stunned the home crowd.
The All Blacks kept possession from a Caleb Clarke break and Cane crossed in the corner, before Taukei’aho barged over from close-range after incessant pressure.
The Springboks had a good close to the half, as Am showed great strength to beat the tackle of Clarke and score and Handré Pollard landed a penalty from 55 yards that sailed through the Highveld air to make it 15-10 at the break.
The teams traded penalties before South Africa scored their second try, a trademark steal from the replacement hooker, Malcolm Marx, at the breakdown allowed Damian Willemse to float a long pass for Mapimpi to cross in the corner.
South Africa took the lead for the first time on 68 minutes after Beauden Barrett tackled Jaden Hendrikse without the ball in his own 22 and received a yellow card. Despite being a man down, the All Blacks produced a big finish as Havili and Barrett scored tries to complete the win.
“In the first half, the game was fast and we couldn’t put out gameplan on them,” the South Africa captain, Siya Kolisi, said. “We could have worked harder there. We knew they only needed a couple of moments to make it count and they did that. Congratulations to them.”
The All Blacks had come off worst in their series defeat to Ireland and the heavy defeat to the Springboks. Over the past two months their pack has been labeled soft while their attack has been heavily criticized. The forwards coach, John Plumtree, and attack coach, Brad Mooar, paid the price for these failures, getting shown the door by Foster.
Before the game, reports in New Zealand indicated Foster would be let go even if he led his side to victory. Whether this stunning performance has made the New Zealand Rugby Union change its mind is unclear, but the selection of props Ethan de Groot and Tyrel Lomax, along with recalling blindside flanker Shannon Frizell and the fly-half, Richie Mo’unga, proved to be masterstrokes.
The All Blacks had lost five of their previous six games in one of the worst years in their history, including last month’s series defeat to Ireland and needed to rediscover their attacking game at Ellis Park.
They did this just in time because four successive Test defeats would have been unthinkable with the World Cup little more than a year away.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism