DROPPED SCRUM-HALF Aaron Smith was the hero for New Zealand this morning, coming on to score a game-changing solo try as the All Blacks defeated South Africa 21-11 in the Rugby Championship.
The win in Dunedin kept the hosts unbeaten after four matches while the injury-hit Springboks saw their record slump to one win, a draw and two losses.
Smith, who had been dropped to the bench for breaking team protocol, was introduced for the second half with the All Blacks holding a slender 5-3 lead.
Then midway through the half, with the scores locked at 8-8, he snapped the deadlock with a brilliant solo try when he darted around the side of a ruck and scampered 30 metres to the line.
The All Blacks scored two tries, to Israel Dagg and Smith, while Aaron Cruden kicked three penalties and a conversion. South Africa’s points came from an exceptional try to Bryan Habana and penalties to Morne Steyn and Johan Goosen.
The win extended the All Blacks’ unbeaten run to 14 games, four short of the world record 18 held by Lithuania.
In the first half the Springboks put away their kicking game and took the All Blacks on in the forwards with their confidence growing as they held their own in the bruising opening exchanges. It kept the visitors within striking range of the posts but kickers Morne and Frans Steyn were woefully off target, being successful with only one of six shots at goal.
When the Springboks resorted to the boot early in the second half, a piece of individual brilliance by Habana produced an immediate try. The right wing scoring machine charged straight through Cruden, then gathered in his own chip-kick over Richie McCaw’s head to score in the corner.
It put South Africa ahead 8-3 with Morne Steyn again off target with the conversion attempt. While the All Blacks were counting their blessings at the inaccuracy of the Springbok kickers, they were also ruing the Springboks’ discipline.
It was not until the 51st minute that Cruden had his first penalty shot at goal and was successful from 30 metres to level the score at 8-8. Smith then produced his magical try, which Cruden converted to put the All Blacks out to a 15-8 victory.
South Africa narrowed the gap to 15-11 when replacement fly-half Goosen landed a penalty for his first international points, before Cruden kicked two more penalties for the All Blacks in the closing stages. Richie McCaw took the plaudits afterwards after another inspirational display from the captain.
Scorers for New Zealand - Tries: Israel Dagg, Aaron Smith. Conversion: Aaron Cruden. Penalties: Cruden (3)
South Africa – Try: Bryan Habana. Penalties: Morne Steyn, Johan Goosen
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Tamati Ellison.
South Africa: Zane Kirchner, Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers (c), Frans Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandre Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira.
Reserves: Tiaan Liebenberg, Dean Greyling, Andries Bekker, Marcell Coetzee, Johan Goosen, Juan de Jongh, Patrick Lambie.
Referee: George Clancy (IRL)