TOWNSVILLE • A late Jordie Barrett penalty saw New Zealand clinch the Rugby Championship with an "ugly" 19-17 victory over world champions South Africa in a historic 100th Test between the arch-enemies yesterday.
In a torrid affair with a high error count in Townsville, Australia, the All Blacks led 13-11 at half-time. Both sides traded penalties through the second period until Barrett landed the killer blow from 43 metres with two minutes left.
It gave the unbeaten All Blacks an unassailable lead in the competition with one round remaining.
"If ever you're going to take an ugly win, we'll take that," a relieved All Blacks coach Ian Foster said.
"Clearly it was going to be a big arm wrestle. We tried to break it open but couldn't. It wasn't pretty but I loved the attitude at the end.
"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."
The powerful Springboks pack won a remarkable 13 turnovers, only to see the ball kicked away most of the time, and Foster said the All Blacks needed to get better at handling that style of play.
"It's one thing to dismiss it as boring, which a lot of people do, but it's ruthless and clinical and they are very good at it," he said.
"We ran out of time in many situations and that put our skill set under pressure, so there's a real learning curve for us."
The showdown had been a long time in the making - 100 years since two of the world's great rivals first faced off and two years since they clashed at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. The All Blacks have now won 60, South Africa 36 and four have been drawn.
South Africa went into the game on the back of stinging criticism from coach Jacques Nienaber who demanded improvement after back-to-back losses to Australia.
He declared himself satisfied with the response as the boot of Handre Pollard had them in sight of victory, before fullback Barrett stepped up to seal the outcome.
"The game plan worked. I thought we had opportunities, they had opportunities, it came down to the wire," said Nienaber.
"A call here, a bounce of the ball there. Sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it goes against you."
Before a near-capacity crowd of 25,000 at the Queensland Country Bank Stadium, a Codie Taylor break paved the way for Will Jordan to score the opening try, with Barrett landing the conversion to have the All Blacks ahead 7 -0.
The Springboks replied when George Bridge misjudged a high kick from Faf de Klerk and Sbu Nkosi snapped up the ball to score. The normally reliable Pollard missed the conversion but banged over two penalties soon after to put the Springboks ahead 11-7.
While Bridge was having problems dealing with the high ball on the left wing, the Springboks inexplicably turned their attention to Barrett, who remained unflappable under a succession of bombs.
He also landed two penalties late in the half, the second when Nkosi was yellow-carded for a deliberate knockdown when the All Blacks were attacking the line.
At the start of the second half, New Zealand twice turned down close-range shots at goal in favour of a line-out drive and both times came up short. Instead it was the Springboks who scored through a third Pollard penalty.
From there to the final whistle the All Blacks played attacking rugby without reward, leaving Pollard and Barrett to trade penalties.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE