The All Blacks have begun their Rugby World Cup defence with a tight 23-13 win over the Springboks.
It was all South Africa to start, Handre Pollard knocking over a long-range penalty to open the scoring as his side dominated early possession. But after an easier attempt from Pollard struck the post, the All Blacks counterpunched in typical fashion with two quickfire tries.
First it was man of the match Beauden Barrett breaking the line to put George Bridge away after a Richie Mo’unga cross-field kick allowed Sevu Reece to break downfield. Shortly after, Anton Lienert-Brown busted through a number of South African tackle in broken play and unloaded for Scott Barrett to cross under the posts untouched.
When Richie Mo’unga added a penalty straight after, New Zealand had turned a 3-0 deficit into a 17-3 lead in the space of five minutes.
The Springboks did close the gap on the back of some sustained pressure in the second half, a smart bit of work from Pieter-Steph du Toit seeing him stroll through the middle of the ruck to the line without having to evade as much as a single tackle before Pollard knocked over a drop goal from 40 metres out to make it a four-point game.
Successful penalties from Mo’unga and Barrett put the All Blacks ten points to the good though, and their opponents were unable to break through for another score.
That will be one of the Springboks’ biggest concerns from the match; while they were able to retain possession and occupy good field position, they rarely stretched the New Zealand defence, looking bereft of ideas in attack.
One exception to that was Cheslin Kolbe, who was a genuine threat down the right-hand touchline and went close to scoring in the second half. However, Rassie Erasmus and his coaching team will have a nervous wait over the diminutive winger’s fitness after he went down late in the game with what appeared to be an ankle injury.
Du Toit, too, may have an injury concern after spending some time down on the pitch in the closing stages, but both he and Kolbe were able to play out the remainder of the match.
The result means the All Blacks will almost certainly top Pool B, while South Africa will likely have to play Ireland in the quarter-finals.