All Blacks squeeze past Springboks 25-24 for clean sweep

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New Zealand's Rieko Ioane celebrates as he scores a try against South Africa during the Rugby Championship match at the Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa, Saturday, Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)
New Zealand’s Rieko Ioane celebrates as he scores a try against South Africa during the Rugby Championship match at the Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa, Saturday, Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

Cape Town, South Africa (AP) — New Zealand weathered a Springboks storm to win 25-24 in the Rugby Championship on Saturday and complete another clean sweep of the southern hemisphere tournament.

With the title already locked up, New Zealand had to dig deep at Newlands to clinch a sixth win out of six in the championship.

They did, showing world champion composure to take everything a desperate South Africa could throw at them before replying late with a try by fullback Damian McKenzie and a game-clinching penalty by replacement flyhalf Lima Sopoaga.

Both teams scored three tries in a pulsating battle. McKenzie, center Ryan Crotty and wing Rieko Ioane for the All Blacks; scrumhalf Ross Cronje, loose forward Jean-Luc du Preez and hooker Marx for South Africa.

“They never disappoint us here,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. “They always turn up when we play them in this country.”

South Africa backup center Damian de Allende was sent off for a late, high charge on Sopoaga that set up that crucial penalty with four minutes to play.

At 25-17, the All Blacks created enough of a cushion to cling on, even after hooker Malcolm Marx drove over for South Africa with two minutes left.

New Zealand, having beaten South Africa by a record 57-0 at home last month, had to work much harder this time and trailed 17-15 with just over 10 minutes to go. The difference was the All Blacks’ ability to seize game-changing chances. Crotty scored in the first half following a charge down, Ioane’s breakaway intercept try came against the run of play, and McKenzie’s score near the end was the result of a brilliant break from deep.

“It’s tough lessons that we’re learning,” Springboks coach Allister Coetzee said.

But whether by 57 points or one, New Zealand found a way to win and cap another masterly tournament.

“57-0 is much easier on the ticker. But I get pleasure whenever we win a test match,” Hansen said.

The champs also came through after losing playmaker Beauden Barrett to a head knock midway through the first half, and dangerous winger Nehe Milner-Skudder to a dislocated right shoulder at the end of the half.

This victory was the All Blacks’ sixth straight over South Africa and was the second successive time the world’s best team has gone 6-0 in the Rugby Championship.

New Zealand led 8-3 at halftime with Crotty’s score.

South Africa, with perseverance and grit, took the lead early in the second half through Cronje’s quick thinking to dot down against the post padding.

Ioane’s try came when he latched on to a wayward Springboks pass with the Boks on the attack and went 80 meters to score.

South Africa responded again with a bust by Marx, who put Du Preez clear.

McKenzie’s magical try, slicing through South Africa’s defensive line and speeding away, was the first of two late blows that finally sealed it.

The second came when De Allende followed through after attempting to charge down a Sopoaga kick, and made contact with the flyhalf late and high.

De Allende got a red card and Sopoaga got up, dusted himself off, and kicked New Zealand to an eight-point lead from which South Africa couldn’t come back.

“It’ll give our younger players who haven’t been in that situation before a little bit of belief that even though it’s tough, you can find a way,” Hansen said.