South Africa consigned the All Blacks to a fifth loss in six Tests, eclipsing their opponents with a suffocating performance that increased the pressure on Ian Foster, New Zealand’s beleaguered head coach.
Breakdown disruption, swarming defence, aerial dominance and set-piece power were the familiar pillars of the Springboks’ display in Nelspruit. Kurt-Lee Arendse, who was later sent off, and Willie Le Roux scored tries with Handrè Pollard kicking 16 points.
Malcolm Marx, on the occasion of his 50th cap, was phenomenal on the floor and tormented the All Blacks with numerous turnovers. New Zealand managed a late consolation try through Shannon Frizell, but continually struggled for a foothold.
“A lot of the credit has to go to the Springboks, especially in the first half,” said Sam Cane, New Zealand’s captain, afterwards. “They threw a heck of a lot at us. We did well to absorb it, but I suppose it took a lot out of us.”
Over their previous seven meetings, these sides had only once been split by more than three points. The contest promised eye-watering intensity to open the Rugby Championship and started in frantic fashion. With just 40 seconds on the clock, Faf de Klerk scurried out of the defensive line to stop Caleb Clarke. The blonde-haired South Africa scrum-half smashed into the carrier’s knee and was knocked unconscious.
A horrible accident compromised the hosts because Jaden Hendricks was called off a bench featuring just two backs. But South Africa did not seem perturbed. They muscled a tone-setting scrum penalty and then went ahead.
Pollard hoisted a high ball that Beauden Barrett could not gather. Lukhanyo Am gobbled up the ricochet and threw a delightful, falling offload to Arendse. The sparky 26-year-old, starting in the absence of Cheslin Kolbe, skated clear and Pollard converted.
On the verge of the second quarter, New Zealand looked to have gathered some momentum with a tackle-breaking trundle from hooker Samosoni Taukei’aho. Marx had other ideas. He pounced over Angus Ta’avao and forced a breakdown turnover.
South Africa were winning the battles of the ground and air. Makazole Mapimpi climbed above Will Jordan to catch Damian Willemse’s up-and-under before Sam Cane overbalanced to concede penalty. Pollard extended the lead to 10-0.
As it happened, a scrum was the unlikely source of the All Blacks’ first points. De Allende crept forward to take a pass from an offside position, allowing Jordie Barrett to reduce the deficit.
Either side of half-time, Pollard landed a penalty and a sweetly-struck drop-goal. When New Zealand probed for a response, Dane Coles spilled. Soon afterwards, the veteran hooker was collared for a crooked line-out throw. Cameras cut to Foster and a hang-dog expression. Next weekend’s trip to Johannesburg will not be any easier.
Fittingly, it was Am that dived in for the next breakdown steal after Beauden Barrett had been funnelled down a blind alley. Pollard capitalised again and, just as the encounter had begun with a sickening collision, so it finished.
Arendse clattered into an airborne Beauden Barrett, sending the All Black spinning. A red card, produced by referee Angus Gardner, was the correct call.
Although New Zealand still struggled against 14 men, with Am bagging an interception, Clarke broke 70 metres brilliantly. Despite Williemse’s superb scrambling, Frizell stretched over for a consolation try.
That gave the All Blacks a sniff of a bonus point, but their attempts to run from deep ended in disaster. Frizell fluffed a rushed pass from Cane and Le Roux, a very late replacement, compounded New Zealand’s misery.
Scoring sequence: 5-0 Arendse try, 7-0 Pollard conversion, 10-0 Pollard penalty, 10-3 J Barrett penalty, 13-3 Pollard penalty, 16-3 Pollard drop-goal, 19-3 Pollard penalty, 19-8 Frizell try, 19-10 Mo’unga conversion, 24-10 Le Roux try, 26-10 Pollard conversion.
South Africa: D Willemse; K-L Arendse, L Am (W Le Roux, 79), D De Allende, M Mapimpi; H Pollard, F de Klerk (J Hendriske, 1); T Nyakane (S Kitshoff, 40), M Marx (B Mbonambi, 54), F Malherbe (V Koch, 51), E Etzebeth (S Moerat, 75), L de Jager (F Mostert, 46), S Kolisi, P-S du Toit (K Smith, 46), J Wiese.
New Zealand: J Barrett (R Mo’unga, 52); W Jordan, R Ioane (Q Tupaea, 62), D Havili, C Clarke; B Barrett (R Ioane, 75), A Smith (F Christie, 70); G Bower (E de Groot, 62), S Taukei’aho (D Coles, 52), A Ta’avao (T Lomax, 48), S Whitelock, S Barrett (T Vaa’i, 73), A Ioane (S Frizell, 56), S Cane, A Savea.
Red card: Arendse (75).
Boks secure historic win: As it happened...
Looking forward to next week's game
There's a lot to fix for Ian Foster and his New Zealand team and they'll potentially have to do with without Beauden and Jordie Barrett, who both left the field as a result of injuries.
They'll face a Springbok team who will almost certainly be without Faf de Klerk, who surely won't be able to take part after that head injury in the first minute. Arendse will also be missing after his red card for the tackle which injured Beauden Barrett.
Man of the Match
The sponsors, Castle Lager, rightly hand their Man of the Match award to Malcolm Marx. He won his team crucial turnovers and seemed to always be involved when the Springboks did something of note. A superb performance from the 28-year old on his 50th outing in that famous South African jersey.
South Africa off to dream start
The Springboks are off to a dream start in this year's Rugby Championship. They dominated the All Blacks for the bulk of the game and well deserved their win. The injury to Arendse is the one blemish on the performance but they'll be ready and prepared to win the second-Test in this series next Saturday.
Try! Le Roux! South Africa 24 New Zealand 10
South Africa with the sucker punch. The ball ends up back deep into All Black territory and they need to get downfield, but no, catastrophe! Cane's poor offload is a gift to Willie le Roux, who manages to get the ball down over the line and the Mbombela Stadium erupts!
Try! Frizell! South Africa 19 New Zealand 8
New Zealand are on the attack and Clarke sees space and bursts into it. He's home and dry but somehow Willemse manages to get back and bring him down from behind by his collar. He must only be a metre out! Frizell gets the ball and manages to stretch and get over.
74 mins: South Africa 19 New Zealand 3
The aftermath of that tackle continues. Barrett is able to walk off the field, which is luckily given the drop he had onto his head, but Arendse leaves on a cart. A horrible passage of play that might tarnish this South Africa performance.
Play is about to restart.
74 mins: South Africa 19 New Zealand 3
A sharp intake of breath when you see this one. South Africa are in the oppositions territory before Hendrikse kicks the ball high for Arendse to chase.
Beauden Barrett leaps for the ball but Arendse comes in below him, looking at the ball, and both men go flying. The medical staff rush onto the field and it looks bad for Barrett who lads headfirst down onto the ground.
Drop goal! Pollard! South Africa 16 New Zealand 3
Another stupid mistake from New Zealand. Clarke catches Pollard's kick but then blindly offloads handing the ball back to the Springboks in dangerous territory. The ball is played inward and then Pollard drops deep into the pocket, calls for the ball and then slots home the dropkick to extend the lead. Superb play.
56 mins: South Africa 13 New Zealand 3
Another boneheaded play by the All Blacks who had South Africa pinned just inside their five-metre line. When the referee makes a point of telling you not to go offside at the maul, you don't then do the opposite. South Africa boot it long downfield and into touch.
43 mins: South Africa 10 New Zealand 3
South Africa win the lineout, they progress forward but an up and under sees All Black bodies fly everywhere but South Africa come up with it. It eventually gets turned over and cleared up field but the pressure doesn't stop and South Africa are back in that same position moments later.
41 mins: South Africa 10 New Zealand 3
South Africa win a lineout just inside the New Zealand 22 but it's turned over and the All Blacks pass it across the field before Will Jordan kicks it deep and into touch. A costly mistake for Jordan that gives the Springboks another lineout in New Zealand's 22, but what can you expect when it's the first time he's touched the ball in 41 minutes of rugby.
Charlie Morgan's halftime verdict
A seven-point lead does not flatter South Africa at all and that breakdown steal from Ardie Savea, which came off the back of some really unimaginative phase-play from South Africa, could prove a big moment in the final shake-up... because it is always close between these sides. Arendse has been brilliant to watch, though. And what a pass for the try from Am. Breathtaking.
39 mins: South Africa 10 New Zealand 3
New Zealand make ground after the lineout and play the ball across the field but Marx comes up big and wins South Africa another pressure. A big moment from the man making his 50th Test appearance and he helps put an end to what looked like a promising attack for New Zealand.
29 mins: South Africa 10 New Zealand 0
South Africa give up their first penalty. Well played Ardie Savea who wins the penalty within five metres of the NZ line! Can the All Blacks begin to turn the tide now?
The penalty count now stands at South Africa one, New Zealand five, which tells you a lot about the story of the first half so far.
Try! Arendse! South Africa 7 New Zealand 0
Kurt-Lee Arendse with the score! The Springboks have dominated so far and they score early. A high boot from Pollard isn't dealt with by the All Blacks allowing Am to grab the ball before offloading to Arendse as he's tackled. Arendse does the rest and bursts to the right-side corner.
Pollard does the business from out on the right to nail the conversion and give South Africa the extra points.
1 mins: South Africa 0 New Zealand 0
A horrible start for South Africa. Faf de Klerk starts with real pace and urgency but a collision with Caleb Clark's knee knocks him out.
The scum-half is out cold and the crowd is stunned into silence. He's replaced by Jaden Hendrikse who makes his debut in the worst of circumstances.
How South Africa are set up today
Backs: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk
Forwards: 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Jaden Hendrikse, 23 Willie le Roux
How the All Blacks line up
Backs: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 David Havili, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith
Forwards: 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 George Bower
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Quinn Tupaea
It's nearly time for South Africa vs. New Zealand
It always matters when South Africa meet New Zealand but this Saturday the two face each other in a clash which could have massive ramifications. The noise around Ian Foster and the All Blacks is deafening and there are doubts over the 57-year old's ability to take New Zealand into next year's World Cup.
It's been a poor run of form for the All Blacks who have lost four of their past five Test matches. Just last month they crumbled to a home series loss to Ireland. It was their first since 1994 but it was the manner of the defeat, with two humiliating losses following a win in the opening Test. In both losses they played second fiddle to Ireland who outperformed them in nearly every area of the field. Even more worrying than the poor performances there will be real concern that the past 12 months has seen the All Blacks air of invincibility begin to dissipate. For years it felt like teams were already beaten before the first whistle but now there is less fear around facing New Zealand, even on their home turf.
Now they face a tough test at the Mbombela Stadium where they face old foes South Africa in the first of a two-game series to open the Rugby Championship. South Africa are still reigning World Champions and come into this after beating Wales in a three-Test series. Against Wales they struggled at times, particularly in the second Test, which they lost by a single point.
The recent performances of the All Blacks are front-page news in a country which prides itself by it's rugby. If Foster's team struggle and get blown out by South Africa then it will raise further questions about his suitability for the role. However, if they can get a win on the road in South Africa then that pressure will ease and it could reinvigorate the team as they compete in the Rugby Championship and look forward into next year.