Replacement flyhalf Pat Lambie kicked a penalty from his own half with a minute to go to deliver a breathless 27-25 win for South Africa over New Zealand on Saturday, the world champions’ first loss in two years.
Lambie’s 55m kick settled a pulsating Rugby Championship Test at Ellis Park as the rivals scored three tries each and kept a 62,000-sellout crowd on edge until the very last seconds, when the All Blacks’ 22-Test unbeaten run finally ended.
Already Rugby Championship winners for a third straight year, the All Blacks showed world-champion resilience to come back from 11 points down with 15 minutes to go to lead in the dying minutes.
However, in a crucial late decision — which All Black coach Steve Hansen said he had no problem with — referee Wayne Barnes took advice from a television official to take play back to an illegal tackle by New Zealand’s Liam Messam as South Africa attacked desperately at the end. Lambie was on target with his 79th-minute match-winning penalty from the very limit of his range.
The ball sailed through the posts to deliver only New Zealand’s second defeat in 37 Tests since the 2011 World Cup, giving South Africa and others a hint of hope ahead of next year’s showpiece.
“I’ve always wondered how it would feel to beat the All Blacks,” South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer said. “Phew, just happy with every single second.”
Meyer ended his own long wait for a first victory over the All Blacks, having lost five straight in his three seasons in charge.
South Africa made all the running in the first half, and New Zealand had control of the game through the second, as the two top-ranked teams in the world extended their reputation for throwing up memorable battles — especially at the inner-city Johannesburg venue.
The fast-starting Springboks scored all of their tries in the first half through an early breakout that resulted in scrumhalf Francois Hougaard going between the posts, and then two from run-on flyhalf Handre Pollard.
Hougaard scored in the 11th minute after South Africa attacked from deep, kept the ball alive on the right wing, and Hougaard found enough space to scamper away with nobody in front. Pollard twice attacked New Zealand’s first line of defense and slipped through tackles to get over the line.
In between Pollard’s scores, center Malakai Fekitoa capitalized on a rare first-half attack from the All Blacks — and a sizzling break and chip-and-chase from left wing Julian Savea — to score between the posts and lift the visitors.
Still down 24-13 after a Pollard penalty early in the second, New Zealand finally found their scintillating game late on with tries by winger Ben Smith in the 66th minute and replacement hooker Dane Coles four minutes later. That appeared to have ripped the game from South Africa’s hands and taken the unbeaten run to 23.
However, Lambie, after missing a long-range drop-goal attempt, kept his head in the packed stadium to win the Test right at the very death. It sent the All Blacks to their first loss since going down in England in December 2012, and their first-ever in 18 games in the four-nation Rugby Championship.
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