Savea brothers score tries as NZ clinches Rugby Championship
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — Brothers Julian and Ardie Savea scored tries as New Zealand beat South Africa 41-13 on Saturday to clinch the Rugby Championship title.
Julian Savea scored his 44th try in 47 tests as the All Blacks quelled a bold challenge from the Springboks to lead 15-10 at halftime. Ardie Savea then celebrated his first start in a test with a try as New Zealand outscored South Africa 26-3 in the second half.
The win, combined with Australia's 36-20 defeat of Argentina later, gave the All Blacks an insurmountable 11-point lead over second-place Australia with two rounds remaining.
The Springboks defied their billing as easy-beats by scoring the first try of the match through winger Bryan Habana — his 66th in tests — to lead 7-3 after 19 minutes.
Hooker Dane Coles provided the last pass in three tries — to wingers Julian Savea, Israel Dagg and lock Sam Whitelock — as New Zealand continued its unbeaten record this season, scoring six tries to one.
The All Blacks have away matches still to play against South Africa and Argentina, after wins over the Wallabies (42-8 and 29-9) and Argentina (57-22) so far in this year's tournament.
New Zealand is now unbeaten in 44 tests at home since their last loss to the Springboks in 2009 — and in 15 tests home and away since they were last beaten by Australia
However, for long periods of Saturday's match the All Blacks were well short of their best form. They were troubled at first by South Africa's physical defense and by its attacking game which used players running onto the ball from depth.
That led to Habana's early try, when he clattered at pace onto a pass from Warren Whiteley and scored without being touched.
New Zealand lacked certainty with its handling in contact for some of the match and had problems in midfield where Ryan Crotty couldn't hold passes and Malakai Fekitoa seldom threatened the defensive line. But, as always, it worked around those shortcomings during the match and still managed six tries to achieve a winning bonus point.
Even when injuries fractured its lineup, forcing Whitelock to spend most of the second half at blindside flanker, New Zealand's structures held together and it took control. It broke apart South Africa's set pieces, wrecking its lineout when hooker Malcolm Marx replaced injured skipper Adriaan Strauss.
"We knew it was going to be a tough one tonight," All Blacks captain Kieran Read said. "The Boks have got a lot of history, especially in All Blacks-Springboks games. We certainly had to work for it. I'm proud of the lads. We showed a lot of intent, especially in the first half without some accuracy and probably cranked it up in the second half."
Captain Strauss said the Springboks are "a work in progress."
"Playing a side like New Zealand on the day, they were great and we have to give them that credit," Strauss said. "There's a lot of hard work still ahead for us."