All Blacks hold off great foes South Africa

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James Mortimer     14 Sep 2014     Getty Images

While possession and territory were relatively even in the end, New Zealand had a significant advantage in attacking numbers and forced the visitors to make nearly double the number of tackles.

It was old school All Blacks Springboks rugby.

It also continued the theme of the All Blacks upping their offensive portfolio, moving away from a defence reliant game towards a ball in hand attack that generated almost 600 metres and over 200 passes, while the 13 offloads to the Springboks one showed how the host’s persistence to try and stress the green wall was obvious.

And it almost didn’t pay off.

In the end the Springboks, making something of a mockery of predictions that their fitness would be found wanting against New Zealand (something they also did at scrum time, putting in a strong performance up front), looked close on numerous occasions in the dying minutes like spoiling Wellington's party.

While it seemed like the All Blacks were hanging on for grim life, in the end this was far from the case, with experience and poise of the side, finishing the game with over 600 Test caps on the field, allowed the team to record their 15th win in the history of The Investec Rugby Championship (since 2012).

Despite the home outfit's strength in playing running rugby, the solitary try to McCaw showed how difficult it was to break through the Springboks defence.

Led by Duane Vermeulen, the tourist’s offensive at the breakdown caused the All Blacks some worries, as did the intensity of their defence which led to the number one ranked side seeking the heavens a remarkable 36 times in general play – one more than the ‘kick-heavy’ South Africans.

The scrum, featuring 1,822 kg of forward power, was relatively even, while the lineout wasn’t quite as crisp without Sam Whitelock as a prime target.

All Blacks first five-eighth Aaron Cruden, kicked a penalty in the 10th minute, although the hosts might have felt it wasn’t the most ideal reward for their early endeavour.

Six minutes later Cornal Hendricks, showing his skills as a former South African Sevens player, put together a darting try, with Handre Pollard cramping the New Zealand midfield on defence giving his wing space on the inside.

With the conversion added, McCaw almost put together the perfect response in the 20th minute with a close range try, but while he was denied Cruden added a second penalty three minutes later to narrow the scoreboard.

While there was plenty of early kicking, the match eased into a tight, albeit fast paced arm wrestle, and the Springboks gained more confidence as the game progressed, although they found playing ball in hand rugby constantly a struggle for periods in the match.

It was a tight close to the opening half.

The battle of the tight was immense, with Brodie Retallick shouldering a huge workload, while Dane Coles continues to show how at home he is at this level.

At halftime it was 7-6 to the South African’s, just the second time in three years that the All Blacks had trailed a tournament fixture at halftime.

The opening minutes to the second half saw Ma’a Nonu replaced by Cory Jane, with the New Zealand second five-eighths suspected to have a possible broken forearm.

Yet the All Blacks backs begin to up the tempo, with Ben Smith especially prominent once moved into the midfield, while Aaron Smith also began to reach into his bag of tricks as he began to mix some clever box kicking with some snipes from the ruck.

However then the game changed on its head.

Cruden kicked a lovely wiper kick to the far right of the field, and a leaping Read took the ball from the air, and then off balance somehow managed to remain on his feet despite the attention of two defenders.

Then McCaw, who had tracked roughly 40 metres from the other side of the field, careened around to score his 25th Test try in the corner.

Pollard would knock over a very well timed drop goal ten minutes later to set up a tense final quarter.

However while the Springboks impressed in how they raised the attacking stakes in the final stages of the game, not for the first time under Steve Hansen’s tutelage the All Blacks remained calm and without panic despite the fatigue of 79 minutes of Test rugby seeping through their bones.

In the end, one of New Zealand’s most respected rivals gave the contest all were expecting.

With Julian Savea again in world class form, McCaw proving again for the 131st time how he is made for Test rugby, Read beginning to find that touch lurking form that has him ranked among the world’s best, while rising forwards like Jeremy Thrush, Steven Luatua and Sam Cane give the youthful vibe to a gnarly pack - the coaching team will be happy with the squad's efforts.

The All Blacks will finish the fourth round top of the table with 16 competition points, while they cracked the century mark, scoring 105 points in the opening four Tests so far.

The next play Argentina in La Plata on September 27.