Two rapid-fire tries in the first half set the All Blacks up for a hard-fought 23-13 win over the Springboks in their blockbuster Rugby World Cup Pool B clash in Yokohama on Saturday.
A relentless Springboks pegged back a 14-point deficit in the second half, but it was not enough.
The win propels New Zealand to the top of the world rankings.
Both sides played under massive pressure going into what has been billed as the biggest pool stage match in World Cup history – their three recent clashes have resulted in a win apiece, and a draw.
South Africa fly-half Handre Pollard put the first points on the scoreboard with a penalty goal two minutes in and the Springboks spent most of the next 15 minutes deep in New Zealand territory. But after a slow and scrappy start, New Zealand awoke and seized the momentum in style.
Soon after, Richie Mo’unga signalled the All Blacks charge was on with a strong run, brought down by South Africa winger Makazole Mapimpi while in full flight just metres from the line. His consolation was a penalty goal from the resulting play to put the All Blacks first points for RWC 2019.
Then came the four minutes of brilliance that turned the tide of the game. Winger George Bridge and second-rower Scott Barrett, pictured, crossed in the 24th and 26th minutes – taking New Zealand from a 0-3 deficit to a solid 17-3 lead.
Again, the Springboks showed their best form from the opening of the second half, reversing defensive errors evident in the first. A promising long break down the right by South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe was denied, then South Africa flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit found a hole in the New Zealand defence to score a pick-and-go try from the breakdown right under the posts 47 minutes in. Pollard’s conversion had South Africa back in the game at 17-10.
Ten minutes later, Pollard struck again with a drop goal, narrowing the lead to four points. New Zealand fly-half Richie Mo’unga took the lead back to seven points with a 66th-minute penalty goal, breaking a near-40 minute drought. Another from New Zealand full-back Beauden Barrett, eight minutes before the final whistle put victory beyond the Springboks’ grasp.
For South Africa:
Try: Du Toit
Drop Goal: Pollard
For New Zealand:
Tries: Bridge, S Barrett
Cons: Mo’unga 2,
Pens: Mo’unga 2 , B Barrett