TOWNSVILLE, Australia: A relieved New Zealand clinched the Rugby Championship crown Saturday by downing South Africa in a bruising and intense clash between the world’s top two teams, as a resurgent Australia stretched their win streak to three.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster recalled big guns Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick for the historic 100th Test against the Springboks after an experimental side easily beat Argentina last week.
And they led from the front in the 19-17 victory, rubbing salt into South African wounds after snatching their No. 1 world ranking last week.
But it was a messy affair which ultimately came down to Jordie Barrett’s boot, with the fullback landing a difficult penalty with two minutes left in the first of a double header at Townsville, in northern Queensland. In the later match, the Wallabies ground down Argentina 27-8, consigning the struggling Pumas to a fifth straight defeat as Dave Rennie’s men won three on the trot for the first time since 2017.
“We knew this game was going to come down to the wire and it was tit for tat there, we just stuck at it,” said All Blacks skipper Ardie Savea after their 10th straight victory.
“We backed ourselves and just glad to come away with the win, relieved actually.
“They put us under a lot of pressure with the box kicks and their chase line and we had to adapt,” he added.
“It was a bit messy, but that’s Test match footy.”
New Zealand’s win ensured they once again won the southern hemisphere title, with world champions South Africa having needed a bonus-point victory to keep their slim championship hopes alive. After five games, the All Blacks have an uncatchable 24 points with a game to play.
Australia, who beat South Africa twice before dismantling Argentina, move up to second on 13 points, two clear of the Springboks, with the Pumas flailing at the bottom.
New Zealand and South Africa scored a try apiece within the opening five minutes when Will Jordan then Sbu Nkosi crossed to set the game alight.
But while the All Blacks went to the break 13-11 in front, they lacked their usual composure as the Springboks successfully shut down their fluent style.
Both sides traded penalties through the second half until Barrett kept his cool and landed the decisive blow in the dying stages from 40 meters out.
“We never like to lose because we come from a very proud country that expects results from us as a team,” said South Africa captain Siya Kolisi, whose side have now lost three in a row.
“But I’m glad of the way the boys stood up today. I can’t fault my teammates or coaches and thought we were right in there. Not much went wrong tonight.”
A revitalized Australia came into their clash against Argentina with their confidence high after consecutive wins over the Springboks, and they kept the momentum going.
Reece Hodge opened their account with a try after just four minutes and Samu Kerevi added another in a bone-crunching first half where Argentina were forced to make a gruelling 62 tackles.
The Wallabies wobbled early in the second stanza and Argentina skipper Julian Montoya powered over for a try, before the home team regained focus and finished strongly with Andrew Kellaway getting their third five-pointer.
“We’re obviously happy to win. We worked hard in the first half to put ourselves in a strong position, then there was probably a bit of frustration,” said Wallabies coach Dave Rennie.
“But we worked hard and sustained a lot of pressure for 20 minutes after half-time, so I guess mixed emotions.
“Happy to win, but we need to be better.”