SYDNEY (REUTERS) - New Zealand narrowly justified their No. 1 world ranking with a hard-fought 19-17 win over world champions South Africa in Townsville on Saturday (Sept 25) to win the Rugby Championship title with a match to spare.
The 100th Test between rugby's two most successful nations did not disappoint and it was not until full-back Jordie Barrett kicked his fourth penalty with two minutes left on the clock that the All Blacks took the lead for the final time.
All Blacks winger Will Jordan and his Springboks counterpart S'bu Nkosi scored early tries but from then on a match of high intensity came down to a kicking duel between South Africa fly-half Handre Pollard and Barrett.
Although the All Blacks were unable to indulge in the free-running that usually characterises their game, Barrett's 14 points from the tee were enough to give them a 12th southern hemisphere test championship title and a 10th successive win.
"The performance was not what we wanted, we were forced into a lot of errors because of the pressure (but) we showed a determination to keep fighting and got there in the end," said All Blacks coach Ian Foster.
"It's really significant for us. The 100th, the history between us, they are a team we respect greatly. Hats off to Jordie for that last kick."
Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber, who was already looking forward to next week's return match on the Gold Coast, said: "I thought it was a proper test match between the number one and the number two teams in the world.
"It came down to wire, a call here, a bounce of the ball there, sometimes it goes for you and sometimes it goes against you."
In a later match, Australia rode an early two-try burst to a comfortable 27-8 victory over Argentina in Townsville, winning three successive Tests for the first time in four years.
If the match lacked the quality of the New Zealand-South Africa clash which preceded it at North Queensland Stadium, the Wallabies will be satisfied with a win to back up two victories over the Springboks.
Full-back Reece Hodge and centre Samu Kerevi crossed in a bright first 20 minutes and winger Andrew Kellaway added a third try for the home side 10 minutes from time after the bench had brought new impetus to the attack.
"I thought we started really well," said Australia captain Michael Hooper.
"We knew this game could always turn into an arm wrestle (but) really pleased with our fight."
The Pumas scored a single try through skipper Julian Montoya off a rolling maul to draw within nine points of the Australians just after half-time but remain winless after five rounds of the championship.
"We didn't have a good game, we didn't complete all our tackles and played in our half," said Montoya. "We still have one week and we want to get better."