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New Zealand 23-13 South Africa: All Blacks survive Springboks comeback in Rugby World Cup opener

 It is only day two of the Rugby World Cup but this was a Test match worthy of a final.

The tournament is still finding its feet – volunteer t-shirts are still crisp out of the packet – but the All Blacks and the Springboks have already hit top gear.

Be it the freakish power of Ardie Savea, or the jack-in-the-box running of Cheslin Kolbe, these sides delivered a level of performance that could carry them through to a rematch here in 41 days’ time.

Scott Barrett runs over the tryline for a first-half try in New Zealand’s victory over South Africa

George Bridge crossed the try line in first half as New Zealand led 17-3 at half-time

George Bridge crossed the try line in first half as New Zealand led 17-3 at half-time

Richie Mo'unga's late penalty gave New Zealand breathing space and denied South Africa

Richie Mo’unga’s late penalty gave New Zealand breathing space and denied South Africa

Japan’s opening night victory was splashed across the local newspapers and this was the second course to whet the nation’s rugby appetite.

MATCH FACTS 

New Zealand 23

Tries: Bridge, Barrett

Conversions: Mo’unga 2

Penalties: Mo’unga 2, B Barrett

South Africa 13

Tries: Du Toit 47

Conversions: Pollard

Penalties: Pollard

Drop goals: Pollard

Referee: Jerome Garces 

‘You’re selling the wrong stuff,’ heckled an outnumbered Springbok supporter at the stalls exclusively selling All Blacks merchandise before kick-off.

Stadium management cranked up the microphone volumes for the haka and the stands filled up with the flashes of camera phones. 

The All Blacks are the big show in town but the Springboks set out to rip of the cloak of invincibility presented to them by the home crowd.

For 20 minutes, their defence was fierce, relentless and disruptive.

From Faf de Klerk to Pieter-Steph du Toit, the Springboks read every pass and snagged the receiver to put the Kiwis on the back-foot.

They targeted New Zealand’s rookie back-three with high kicks and, inside the opening minute, turned over winger George Bridge for an early three-pointer.

On the other wing, Sevu Reece knocked on a rushed pass and, suddenly, the world champions looked like mere mortals.

Handre Pollard gave South Africa the lead as the Springboks made an impressive start

Handre Pollard gave South Africa the lead as the Springboks made an impressive start

South Africa put the Kiwis firmly on the back foot as they set the early tempo in Japan

South Africa put the Kiwis firmly on the back foot as they set the early tempo in Japan

They were shunted back in the opening scrum and the Bok heavies – Eben Etzebeth and Malcolm Marx – bullied their way over the gainline.

Then Handre Pollard had a second kick at goal to double the lead, but he struck the left post to dent his early show of confidence.

The first half turned out to be a game of two halves.

If the opening 20 minutes was a showcase of legalised violence, the second 20 minutes was an exhibition of harum-scarum counter-attack.

The All Blacks found their rhythm. Their wide-men settled down on the global stage, while Beuaden Barrett started to find half-gaps in midfield.

Momentum swung on one loose pass from De Klerk and normal service was resumed.

Mo'unga won a penalty to level the exchanges and in turn change the tide of the first half

Mo’unga won a penalty to level the exchanges and in turn change the tide of the first half 

Bridge ran in off the left shoulder to score a try as New Zealand began to dominate

Bridge ran in off the left shoulder to score a try as New Zealand began to dominate

The scrum-half missed his man and Richie Mo’unga fly-hacked downfield – before winning a penalty to level the exchanges.

Three Springbok errors resulted in three All Black scores.

Next, Duane Vermeulen lost a contest in the air and the Kiwis reminded us of their supreme transition play.

Mo’Unga’s kick-pass found Reece – a Crusaders combination – before Savea and Barrett linked up for Bridge to run in off the left shoulder.

Barrett's try put New Zealand firmly in control as they sped into a 17-3 lead at half-time

Barrett’s try put New Zealand firmly in control as they sped into a 17-3 lead at half-time

Three minutes later, Pollard dropped a high ball and the same suspects combined to crack the green and gold wall.

They were not just picking apart the South African defence, but ripping it to shreds.

Hooker Dane Coles showed his handling skills out wide, before Anton Lienert-Brown sent over Scott Barrett to put his side 17-3 ahead.

The big bad Boks ran out of puff but they took a few deep breaths at half-time and exploded into the second half.

Pollard scored a late drop goal but two late penalties ensured New Zealand held on for victory

Pollard scored a late drop goal but two late penalties ensured New Zealand held on for victory

These two sides have an aggregate score of 82-82 over the previous three Test matches and they went blow for blow.

Like Shane Williams, Kolbe bounced down the right wing like a pinball wizard to carry his team into All Black territory.

The pint-sized winger lost the ball momentarily, but Du Toit intercepted the Kiwi counterattack and eventually scored under the posts.

The image of Sonny Bill Williams appeared on the big screens and the home crowd whooped and hollered as the cult hero was introduced after 50 minutes.

Marshalled by De Klerk, however, the Springboks did not buy into the hype.

Pollard narrowed the gap to four points with a long-range drop goal, but the All Blacks have not lost a World Cup game for 12 years and two late penalties ensured that record could run on for the foreseeable future.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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