Rampant All Blacks lay down a marker
July 10, 2010
Ma'a Nonu scored the All Blacks' second
© Getty Images
New Zealand laid down a marker for this season's Tri-Nations by powering past reigning champions South Africa 32-12 at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday.
The fired-up All Blacks were a class apart from their much-vaunted opponents, ending a run of three successive defeats to the Springboks and ensuring that the visitors did not pick up a first win at Eden Park since 1937.
Loose-head prop Tony Woodcock burrowed over from close range to seal the bonus point in the final play of the game, rounding off a superb team performance. Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu and Kieran Read had earlier scored tries for the home side, with Dan Carter providing his usual calm from the kicking tee with 12 points, while South Africa were made to live off scraps and relied heavily on the boot of fly-half Morne Steyn.
The All Blacks combated the South African lineout to devastating effect and were able to call on inspirational showings from Nonu, lock Tom Donnelly and hooker Keven Mealamu, with the Springboks ragged from the opening moments and made to rue a first-half sin-binning for second-rower Bakkies Botha.
The headlines were almost written inside three minutes following Botha's headbutt on a prone Jimmy Cowan, but with both the referee and his assistants missing the incident it will fall to the citing commissioner to tidy up. As boos rang around the ground Carter lined up his first shot after fortuitously being awarded a penalty in the wake of Botha's indiscretion, but his standing foot gave way to send the ball spiralling below the crossbar.
Steyn made no mistake with his first shot, having missed an earlier snap-drop-goal, but an inglorious game for Botha continued when he saw yellow for cynically ending a stunning All Black break. Muliaina began the movement with some sparkling work under the high ball in his own 22, bursting clear after turning down a mark. A superb pass from Nonu, who had earlier shown nerves with a clumsy knock-on, opened the wide channel for a rampaging Richie McCaw and from his break the hosts set up camp in the Springbok 22. Botha snuffed out the danger by flopping his giant frame across the tackle area, earning 10 minutes and allowing Carter to level the scores from directly in front.
Muliaina was also the architect of the first try while Botha kicked his heels, exploiting a poor Ricky Januarie kick with another rasping counter-attack. A dab on the accelerator from the fullback took him clear of Gurthro Steenkamp and Schalk Burger and with McCaw again providing the link play, Smith was put over in the corner. Carter slotted the kick from out wide and added another three points when the All Black scrum turned the screw.
The Springboks gained a foothold following Botha's restoration, thanks in part to a midfield rampage from the Bulls lock. Jean de Villiers and Steyn combined to carve a sliver of space but the fly-half's pass went to ground with the arch-finisher, Bryan Habana, lurking on the wing.
The All Blacks finished the half the stronger, and made a crucial breakthrough with their second try. The increasingly-influential Nonu was the scorer. The Hurricanes midfielder followed up a moment of fortune, a sloppy grubber rebounding into his grasp, by releasing the excellent Joe Rokocoko along the wing. Brad Thorn continued the attack only to have the ball ripped from his grasp by Nonu, who dived under the tackle of de Villiers to score.
An early offside call against the All Blacks allowed Steyn to close the gap with his second penalty just after the restart and the Bulls playmaker brought up 200 Test points with his third shot of the night, which followed a period of sustained possession. While the Springboks clawed their way back into the game in multiples of three, they did not possess the attacking acumen to further dent the hosts' lead.
The All Blacks continued to win the gainline battle and their pack's ability to generate front-foot ball soon paid off with a suckerpunch third try. Donnelly carried the ball straight and hard after some neat interplay between Muliaina and Jerome Kaino, and Read picked a superb line from deep to crash over between two tacklers off a sympathetic Piri Weepu pass.
Steyn added another penalty for a small advance on the scoreboard but with ball in hand the home side continued to pick the gaps from aimless punts. Replacement Richard Kahui made two conspicuous bursts after being gifted possession and when the normally imperious Springbok lineout began to struggle the poor kicks became yet more problematic as possession dried up.
Butch James was introduced as a late replacement, playing his first Tri-Nations Test since 2008, but contributed little aside from several bursts of indiscipline which further added to his side's dishevelled complexion. While he was scrapping around the fringes the hosts were going for try number four and it duly arrived through Woodcock, who scrabbled across the whitewash seconds prior to the hooter, rewarding his pack and leaving the Springboks to lick their wounds prior to next weekend's rematch in Wellington.