YOKOHAMA: Defending champions New Zealand burnished their credentials as favorites for the Rugby World Cup with a hard-fought 23-13 win against top contenders South Africa in a blockbuster match in Yokohama on Saturday.
The impressive All Blacks cut the Springboks to ribbons during a five-minute period of dominance in the first half that earned them two converted tries, and then saw off a determined second-half fightback to register the vital Pool B win.
Before nearly 64,000 fans in Yokohama’s International Stadium, the All Blacks set the game alight with the sensational scoring spree which was against the early run of play.
Until then the Springboks had enjoyed a huge territorial advantage but were unable to cross the line and had to rely on an early Handre Pollard penalty for their only points in the first half.
In a frantically paced second half they came within one try of regaining the lead before late penalties made the game safe for New Zealand.
For the fourth time in as many matches at this World Cup, the team that scored first finished second.
Perhaps it was nerves, but play was marred by many handling errors from both sides early in the contest.
South Africa’s reputed staunch defense was exposed by 26 missed tackles in the first half as the All Blacks’ pace proved too much.
After Springboks backrower Duane Vermeulen was given the honor in his 50th Test to lead the teams on to the field, Pollard quickly had the South Africans on the board with a handy penalty.
With the deft kicking of Faf de Klerk backed by the muscle of the South African pack, the All Blacks were pinned deep in their own half for most of the first quarter until a Richie Mo’unga breakout brought them into the game for the first time.
Although South Africa saved that try, Mo’unga landed the penalty to level the scores and almost immediately set up the next scoring move, as a chip kick to right wing Sevu Reece launched a 60-meter move that finished with a try to left wing George Bridge.
Influential center Anton Lienert-Brown sparked New Zealand’s next long-range counter-attack which saw lock Scott Barrett loom up in support for the try.
It took South Africa until the eighth minute of the second half to score their first try when Pieter-Steph du Toit brushed aside Aaron Smith to score near the posts.
Pollard narrowed the gap further with a 40-meter drop goal to have the South Africans a try away from taking the lead.
But late penalties by Mo’unga and man-of-the-match Beauden Barrett gave the All Blacks a 10-point safety net.