DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — New Zealand swept aside the Aaron Smith scandal, and South Africa, to equal the top-tier record for consecutive test victories with a 57-15 hammering of its old rival in the final round of the Rugby Championship on Saturday.
The masterful All Blacks scored a record nine tries to none from the Springboks, put 45 points past the Boks in the second half, and won the last 20 minutes 35-0 for their heaviest win in the 95-year rivalry.
It sets New Zealand up for a record-breaking 18th straight victory when it plays Australia in two weeks, but away from that winning streak, the compelling Kings Park performance will resound through rugby all on its own.
"Confidence is a massive thing," coach Steve Hansen said. "This team is very confident, full of confidence in their own abilities without being arrogant. We work hard on trying to play a good brand of rugby and at the same time win test matches. At the moment it's working for us."
It gave New Zealand a sixth bonus-point win out of six games in the southern hemisphere tournament. Rugby's world champion and top-ranked team had already won the tournament with rounds to spare, its 14th southern hemisphere title in 21 attempts.
Scrumhalf TJ Perenara — starting in place of Smith, who was suspended for the game for misconduct — scored two tries, as did winger Israel Dagg, and flyhalf Beauden Barrett. New Zealand kept coming and coming, with fullback Ben Smith and replacements Codie Taylor and Liam Squire adding late tries, with Squire's after the final hooter.
South Africa could muster only five penalties from Morne Steyn. At the end, Springboks fans applauded as the All Blacks, the enemy, took a lap of honor around the field.
Before the game, the controversy over Smith's encounter with a woman in an airport toilet last month, and his exit from the tour of South Africa, threatened to undermine the All Blacks' preparations.
New Zealand responded with a 17th straight win, and possibly this team's best, continuing a run that began in August 2015 and equaling the record set by New Zealand in 1965-69 and 2013-14, and South Africa in 1997-98.
This squad, verging on unbeatable when at its best, might deserve to hold the record outright after Saturday.
"They're a team that wants to get better and do things other teams haven't done," Hansen said.
New Zealand's record margin of victory — eclipsing the 36 in 2003 at Loftus Versfeld — could have been even bigger at Kings Park if not for a couple of uncharacteristic errors on attack early in the first half and an off-night from the kicking tee by Barrett.
That mattered little. The lethal All Blacks attacking unit surged to score seven of its tries in the second half, bettering their previous highest score against South Africa, 55 in 1997.
Once the All Blacks got into their stride, South Africa could barely get the ball off them and couldn't stop them. The hosts missed 33 tackles, New Zealand missed two.
South Africa isn't the only team to find the All Blacks on another level over the last five years, but this performance underlined more than most the gap between them and the rest.
"They're just so much better," South Africa coach Allister Coetzee said. "On and off the field, they are just in a better class. They are world class. We are really hurting. Almost to the extent that we feel very embarrassed for the last 20 minutes."
Playing South Africa in South Africa, the team New Zealand considers its biggest rival, was meant to be a stern test for Hansen's World Cup winners.
The All Blacks were just so slick, with the opening try for Dagg in the 22nd minute coming after waves of pressure and a superb quick pass by flanker Jerome Kaino. Perenara sniped off a ruck for his score in the 33rd.
New Zealand led 12-9 at halftime, and was only ahead for the first time in the game late in the first half, but the second 40 was a blowout.
"The team we've got just wants to express themselves," New Zealand captain Kieran Read said. "They're pretty hard to stop, to be honest."