6 Oct 2013

New Zealand retains Rugby Championship title

2:49 pm on 6 October 2013

New Zealand has held on to the Rugby Championship title by beating South Africa 38-27 in a nine-try thriller on Saturday at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

The All Blacks led 21-15 at half-time and overcame second-half yellow cards to forwards Liam Messam and Ben Franks to finish nine points ahead of the Springboks in the table.

The result ensured six wins from six games in the annual four-nation tournament for the world champions and a rare victory at Ellis Park, Reuters reports.

The All Blacks ran in five tries through Liam Messam (2), Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett and Kieran Read.

South Africa needed to score four tries to have a chance of capturing the trophy but touchdowns by Bryan Habana (2), Willie le Roux and Jean de Villiers were unable to give them the win they needed.

Opening try

First five eight Morne Steyn struck an early penalty for the Springboks but the lead lasted just moments as New Zealand number eight Kieran Read combined with Smith who beat three defenders on his way to the opening try on 12 minutes.

Six minutes later, powerful Duane Vermeulen broke through the All Blacks defence and put winger Bryan Habana away for the first of his two tries.

Habana's second - a chip, chase and regather - was a game highlight as South Africa surged 15-7 ahead midway through the first half, but the experienced Habana was forced off the field soon after with a hamstring injury.

The All Blacks responded to the mounting challenge and closed the gap to a point on 25 minutes when Messam barged over as the Springboks failed to defend on the edge of the ruck.

In the dying seconds of the first 40 minutes South Africa lost the ball attempting to run it out of their own 22, and Messam crossed to give the visitors a 21-15 lead at half time

With a vocal Ellis Park crowd willing them on, South Africa made a stirring start after the break.

Messam was sin-binned for a professional foul five metres from his own line and the Springboks took advantage as they spread the ball to le Roux, who evaded two tackles as his team regained the lead.

Captain de Villiers smashed through a number of defenders to score the essential bonus point with 23 minutes remaining. But South Africa's Rugby Championship dream died when Barrett broke free and scored under the posts as New Zealand secured the bonus point they needed out of the game to retain their title.

Man-of-the-match Read crossed for New Zealand's fifth try with a quarter of an hour to play after he was sent clear by winger Julian Savea as world champions opened up an 11-point lead which they never relinquished.