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New Zealand won the Rugby Championship for the seventh time when it edged South Africa 19-17 Saturday in the 100th match between the teams.
Fullback Jordie Barrett, who withstood a bombardment of Springboks high kicks, booted his fourth penalty in the 79th minute to clinch the All Blacks’ win in a match in which the lead changed hands four times in the second half.
“I was hoping to get an opportunity late in the game, it was kind of inevitable with that score line," Barrett said of the match at Townsville in Australia's north Queensland state.
There were only two tries in the match — one to each team. They came inside the first six minutes to winger Will Jordan for the All Blacks — his 12th try in nine tests — and, immediately afterwards, to his opposite Sibusiso Nkosi for the Springboks.
The remainder of the match was ruled by the Springboks, who slowed the tempo with their rush defense and a lack of any attempt to create attacking play. Only once did the Springboks string together more than two passes.
It was a game of high kicks and set pieces and the All Blacks struggled in both areas. Though they had an advantage of possession, they made too many mistakes under defensive pressure, at lineouts and at scrums.
They persevered in a game unsuited to their nature and came up with the winning play in the final minutes when replacement center Quinn Tupaea gained the match-winning penalty which Barrett kicked the winning goal from 45 meters.
At the start the match was the anticipated clash of styles between the high tempo and skill of the All Blacks, who scored 24 tries in their first four Championship matches, and the slow, unadventurous approach of the Springboks who scored nine. It degenerated after the early exchange of tries.
Jordan scored in the third minute when hooker Codie Taylor broke out of defense, stepping through tackles and, with the Boks’ defense up too quickly, passed to the winger who sprinted away.
The Springboks took the lead for the first time in the 11th minute when flyhalf Handre Pollard, who missed the conversion of Nkosi’s try, kicked a penalty for an 8-7 lead. He goaled again to make the lead 11-7 in the 13th minute.
But Barrett kicked penalties in the 31st and 35th minutes to give the All Blacks a 13-11 lead at halftime. The second came from a deliberate knock-on which resulted in a yellow card against Nkosi. It could easily have earned the All Blacks a penalty try as they had a two-man overlap on the left-hand side.
The lead changed hands repeatedly through the second half in an exchange of penalties between Pollard and Barrett.
The Springboks led 14-13, then the All Blacks 16-13. South Africa went ahead 17-16 in the 67th minute before Barrett’s match-winning goal.
The Springboks rattled the All Blacks with their intense and physical style but it wasn’t enough to win and they slumped to their first three-match losing streak since 2016.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster said the scrappy and humid contest was what they expected but it was a learning experience for some his players who had never before faced the world champions.
“The performance wasn’t really what we wanted but we were forced into a lot of errors from their pressure,” he said. “That was a game that we expected to come up against but hats off to them, I just loved our attitude when things weren’t going well.”
South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber said the result could have gone either way.
“The closeness of the winning margin was expected,” said Nienaber. “When the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the world play each other, there is always going to be small margins and recent results since 2018 have showed that as well.
“I thought we did enough to win this from an effort perspective and the players were excellent tonight, but perhaps we just lacked the composure when it mattered in that last minute or two.”
The first test between New Zealand and South Africa was played at Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island in 1921 — the All Blacks won 13-5. Saturday’s 100th match was intended to be played in the same city but New Zealand’s tightened border restrictions made that impossible. All matches in the Rugby Championship, after the first two in South Africa, were moved to Queensland state.
The All Blacks count their rivalry with the Springboks as their greatest and the long relationship has been tumultuous. The 1956 series, when the All Blacks beat the Springboks in New Zealand for the first time, is one of the most famous in New Zealand rugby history.
During South Africa’s apartheid era, players of color at first were banned from touring All Blacks teams and as late as 1970 were allowed to tour only when classified as “honorary whites.”
The 1981 Springbok tour to New Zealand sparked civil disobedience and violent protests unprecedented in New Zealand history.
The All Blacks now have won 60 of the 100 matches between the teams, the Springboks 36 with four draws. Of the last 22 matches between the teams, New Zealand has won 18.
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