All Blacks earn last-gasp revenge over South Africa
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — For New Zealand, it was a victory as satisfying as clinching the Rugby Championship title itself.
The All Blacks came back from the dead twice on Saturday, scoring two tries in the dying minutes to beat South Africa 32-30 and exact revenge for a painful home loss to the Springboks three weeks ago.
Despite being the second-best team on the field for most of the game at Loftus Versfeld, the All Blacks — crowned southern hemisphere champions for the third straight season last week — showed world-champion composure and belief to find a way to win at the very end.
To do so, they had to come back from 17 points down on two occasions in a thrilling victory set up by replacement loose forward Ardie Savea's try in the 80th minute and confirmed by replacement flyhalf Richie Mo'unga's match-winning conversion on the hooter.
New Zealand won against a Springboks team playing just about as well as it has all season, with a 12-point advantage heading into the last five minutes, and with the backing of a 50,000 sellout at Loftus Versfeld.
"Hell, what a team they are," Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus said. "I can talk about all the things that we did wrong in the last 10 minutes, but what about the things they did right."
Three weeks ago in Wellington, New Zealand dominated a game it somehow couldn't find a way to win, giving the Springboks and the rest of the rugby world hope that the All Blacks might be vulnerable when they seek a third straight Rugby World Cup title in a year's time.
Saturday's performance, where New Zealand had precious little possession and territory and still turned it around, erased any doubts about the All Blacks' ability to win no matter what. It would stay with his team for a long time, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
"One of the big lessons and the big learnings is the self-belief," Hansen said. "Never giving in. Keep knocking on the door.
"There are young players who haven't been in a position where they are behind before. They will put their heads on the pillow tonight knowing don't stop believing."
The All Blacks didn't.
From 6-6 at halftime, the Boks scored 17 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half, with tries by Jesse Kriel and center partner Damian de Allende, and flyhalf Handre Pollard adding the conversions and a penalty.
Down 23-6, New Zealand responded with a score by scrumhalf Aaron Smith, against the run of play but taken with clinical efficiency when hooker Codie Taylor made the first clean break of the game for the New Zealanders and Smith, running in support, ensured it wasn't wasted.
Down and seemingly out again, trailing 30-13 minutes after the Boks' third try, by wing Cheslin Kolbe in the 59th, the All Blacks came back again.
South Africa couldn't match their finish.
Winger Rieko Ioane sped into the corner unmarked in the 62nd and New Zealand scored 19 points in the last 20 minutes while keeping the Springboks scoreless.
The defining minutes were the last five when New Zealand twice set up lineouts five meters out from the Springboks line and twice showed deadly accuracy to score off them.
First, it was lock Scott Barrett grinding his way over after a series of drives to make it 30-25 with Mo'unga's conversion.
Savea and Mo'unga then combined to win it, ensuring the All Blacks finish another Rugby Championship — when they claimed their sixth title in seven years — with a win that will give them as much pleasure as the championship.
"To win a game like that, it obviously feels fantastic," All Blacks captain Kieran Read said. "Those are the types of games you probably think all through the game, you're not going to win. But there's got to be a belief deep down."
Springboks captain Siya Kolisi said "That's why they're the No. 1 team in the world."