New Zealand beat South Africa 32-16 to complete a perfect Rugby Championship campaign as Australia closed the inaugural tournament with a 25-19 win in Argentina.
Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith got tries at FNB Stadium in Soweto and fly-half Dan Carter kicked 12 points for the world champion All Blacks, who outscored the Springboks 20-0 in the second half.
New Zealand, which secured the southern hemisphere championship with a game to spare last week, finished atop the standings with 26 points from its six-game sweep. Yesterday’s victory lifted the All Blacks’ winning streak to 16 Tests since losing to Australia in the final Tri-Nations match last year.
“You have to take your opportunities in these big Tests,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said in a televised interview after becoming the first player to win 100 Test matches. “We were happy to win the championship in Argentina last week, but we knew the big challenge was to come. It is hugely satisfying to get a win here.”
Winger Bryan Habana touched down in the first half for South Africa’s only try, to tie former New Zealand full-back Christian Cullen’s record of seven tries in one southern hemisphere championship. Fly-half Johan Goosen added the conversion and a penalty before going off injured in the first half and his replacement Elton Jantjies booted two penalties
Trailing 16-12 at halftime, the All Blacks reclaimed the lead 22 seconds into the second half when Nonu scored went over. His midfield partner Conrad Smith got New Zealand’s fourth try in the 52nd minute, which Carter converted to make it 26-16.
Carter added a drop goal and penalty to complete the victory, which took New Zealand within two wins of setting a record for consecutive Test victories by a top-tier rugby nation. New Zealand and South Africa share the elite mark of 17 straight Test wins. The All Blacks face Australia in Brisbane on Oct. 20 before undertaking a four-match tour of Europe.
“At 16-12 we were in the game,” said Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer. “Just after halftime they scored from a turnover, then Carter took over. They were superb to close out the game and we need to learn from that.”
In Rosario, Australia held on for a six-point victory to leave Argentina winless in its tournament debut and move above South Africa into second place in the standings by virtue of having won more games. Both teams finished with 12 points.
“It wasn’t much of a spectacle but it was character and it was guts from our guys,” Wallabies captain Nathan Sharpe said in a televised interview.
Winger Digby Ioane scored the Wallabies’ only try, while full-back Mike Harris kicked six penalties and a conversion for a personal haul of 20 points. Juan Imhoff touched down for Argentina, which also got four penalties and a conversion.
Harris kicked five penalties to give the visiting team a 15-9 halftime lead before Ioane’s 65th-minute converted try sent the Wallabies 10 points clear. Although Imhoff’s try cut the deficit with three minutes left, handling errors cost the Pumas the chance of a comeback victory.
“It’s very very tough, they are the best teams in the world,” Pumas captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe said. “We’re going to try to improve in every game.”