DURBAN, South Africa (AFP) – New Zealand thrashed South Africa 57-15 on Saturday (Oct 8) in a Rugby Championship final-round Test after leading by only three points at half-time to notch a record-equalling 17th consecutive victory.
The All Blacks were without disgraced scrum-half Aaron Smith, who flew home on Thursday after revelations he indulged in a toilet tryst with a female at Christchurch airport last month while travelling with the team.
But stand-in TJ Perenara took full advantage of his opportunity at a packed Kings Park Stadium to score two tries in an ultimately emphatic win born out of relentless pressure that delivered seven second-half tries.
New Zealand, who now share the record with South Africa, will become the first top-tier team to win 18 Tests in a row if they defeat Australia on October 22 in Auckland.
Week-long rain in Durban stayed away as the match kicked off, but a swirling wind made conditions difficult for handling and kicking.
South Africa fly-half Morne Steyn made light of the difficulties to score from his first penalty attempt after five minutes in front of a capacity 50,000 crowd.
New Zealand fly-half Beauden Barrett, who began the game as the leading Rugby Championship scorer this season with 65 points, fluffed his first penalty attempt.
South Africa were gaining little possession but defended with a lot more spirit than on a recent, disastrous tour in which they lost to Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.
Steyn slotted another penalty to double the lead to six points before the All Blacks scored their first try through right winger Israel Dagg on 22 minutes.
It was a typical New Zealand score with backs and forwards applying pressure in the danger zone and when the ball was moved wide, a quick pass from flanker Jerome Kaino sent Dagg over.
Barrett was out of luck with the conversion, which struck the near post, leaving the Springboks 6-5 ahead.
Given another penalty chance, Steyn made no mistake and the home side led by four points as the match passed the 30-minute mark.
The visitors took the lead for the first time when Perenara was awarded a try after numerous replays were shown to the referee, his assistant and the television match official.
Perenara appeared to have lost control of the ball forward before dotting down, but he got the nod and Barrett converted for a 12-9 advantage they retained until half-time.
New Zealand thought they had scored another try through lock Brodie Retallick just before the break, but this time the officials ruled it out, saying captain Kieran Read was guilty of obstruction.
The second half began as the first ended with the All Blacks on the offensive and Dagg notched his fifth try of this Championship within five minutes of the restart.
Once again he went over far out, after passes from Perenara and Barrett set him up, and the fly-half failed to convert, his third miss from four shots at goal in the challenging conditions.
A Steyn penalty kept the Springboks in the hunt, but when full-back Patrick Lambie had a clearance charged down, Barrett won the chase for the loose ball to score, but failed to convert.
It was becoming an uneven contest between the goal kicking of Steyn and the try-scoring world champions and after the Springboks playmaker slotted a fifth penalty, his side conceded a fifth try.
Full-back Ben Smith was the catalyst, winning an aerial duel with Lambie, and quick, slick handling resulted in Perenara scoring and Barrett converting for a 29-15 lead.
It went from bad to worse in the closing stages for South Africa as Barrett converted his try and Lima Sopoaga added the extra points to scores by fellow substitute, hooker Codie Taylor, full-back Smith and replacement flanker Liam Squire.