South Africa ground down an out-of-form New Zealand to win 26-10 in the Rugby Championship opener on Saturday and piled the pressure on the All Blacks with their fifth defeat in six matches.
The Springboks scored two tries at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, one at the start by wing Kurt-Lee Arendse and one right at the end. Replacement Willie le Roux crossed over as the All Blacks launched a desperate late attack deep in their own 22 in an attempt to salvage some pride.
The Springboks were in control throughout and had a great territorial advantage to work with, although they finished with 14 men. Arendse was issued a red card in the 75th minute — while he was lying flat out receiving medical attention — for a highly dangerous charge in the air on Beauden Barrett.
The Springboks led 19-3 with a couple of minutes to go and were grinding their way to a big victory over an All Blacks team that had been subdued by the home side’s scrummaging, merciless defense and persistent tactical kicking that kept the visitors pinned in their own half for the majority of the game.
New Zealand finally broke clear in the dying minutes with a burst by the wing Caleb Clarke. He was dragged down just short of the line by Damian Willemse but the replacement forward, Shannon Frizell, was on hand to score the All Blacks’ only try with two minutes remaining.
The consolation barely lasted a minute as Frizell dropped a pass from the captain, Sam Cane, as the All Blacks tried to attack from in front of their try line, allowing Le Roux to kick ahead, flop on the ball over the line and seal the win. The Springboks fly-half Handré Pollard kicked 16 points.
The All Blacks must play a second Test against South Africa next week at Ellis Park in Johannesburg and the head coach Ian Foster’s job is now hanging by a thread, as is the future of flanker Cane as the leader of the team. New Zealand are in the midst of their worst run in 24 years after last month’s historic home series loss to Ireland.
Another defeat against the world champions next weekend would likely prove to be the end for Foster. New Zealand’s chief executive Mark Robinson recently refusing to guarantee his position beyond the two games against South Africa, throwing the All Blacks into some turmoil just over a year out from the Rugby World Cup in France.