The All Blacks took the outright lead in the Rugby Championship yesterday when they comprehensively beat South Africa 29-15 in a bitter contest between the heavyweights of world rugby.
In a match marred by a red card for Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis, the All Blacks also picked up a bonus point with their overwhelming victory over the previously unbeaten South Africa.
The All Blacks finished with only 13 men after two yellow cards in the final 10 minutes, when captain Kieran Read was dismissed for a lineout foul and Ma’a Nonu was sent from the field for a shoulder charge.
The Springboks came to New Zealand confident they could shatter their Eden Park hoodoo, where they have not won since 1937.
Instead they were outplayed by pace on attack and the staunch defense by the All Blacks, who scored four tries to the visitors’ two.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Du Plessis may have been “unlucky” with his first yellow card, but overall he had no complaints about the refereeing.
“In an intense battle like that you are going to get moments,” he said. “You don’t like seeing it, but it happens and you pay the price for being ill-disciplined. We paid it twice.”
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer refused to blame the cards for the loss and said he had no excuses.
“The ref is always right,” he said. “If you start making excuses for your team, then they start to make excuses. There were a lot of things that weren’t good enough, even when we had 15 men on the field.”
The intensely physical battle erupted into an all-out brawl in the 15th minute when All Blacks playmaker Dan Carter was bowled in a shoulder charge by Du Plessis.
It took referee Romain Poite a full minute to restore order and when the dust settled, the injured Carter was out of the game and Du Plessis received 10 minutes in the sin-bin.
Du Plessis received his second yellow, and subsequent red card, in the first minute of the second half when he elbowed Liam Messam in the throat.
In between the cards, the All Blacks lost fullback Israel Dagg with an ankle injury and Sam Cane spent 20 minutes receiving medical treatment for a head wound.
When Carter went down the All Blacks led 7-3 and by the time Du Plessis returned to the field they were 14-3 ahead and on their way to extending their unbeaten run at Eden Park to 32 (31 wins, one draw) dating back to 1994.
The All Blacks also overtook France for the most Test wins, moving to 383, and extended their records for the most Test points (13,242) and most Test tries (1,726).
The All Blacks kicked off with the breeze behind them and punished South Africa early when Nonu latched on to a misdirected Bryan Habana clearing kick.
The All Blacks center’s return kick forced a lineout in the corner from where Read drove over for his first try.
Morne Steyn landed a penalty for the Springboks before the punch up, then when the All Blacks had a one-man advantage they struck again with their second try.
Replacement fly-half Beauden Barrett carved through the Springboks backline on a 55m run and lock Brodie Retallick finished off the move when he crashed over by the posts.
Du Plessis returned to the field to briefly restore his place in South Africa’s good books when he scored from a lineout drive.
Steyn kicked the conversion and Barrett landed a penalty for the All Blacks, who took a 17-10 lead into the break.