Handre Pollard took the lead in Faf de Klerk’s absence to kick South Africa to a 26-10 opening win over New Zealand in the 2022 Rugby Championship.
The Springboks saw their scrum-half take off on a stretcher within two minutes at Mbombela Stadium after a blow to the head to leave them in the light of one of their key creative strengths.
But midfielder Pollard unfurled a judiciously managed game plan amid an amusing and uneven encounter that saw the world champions start their campaign with victory.
Jacques Nienaber was forced to sweat on what could have been a difficult night when De Klerk was forced off the field after colliding with the knee of winger Caleb Clarke.
Despite the loss of their influential centre-back, an energized Springboks team still scored first, with a two-two of Kurt-Lee Arendse and Lukhanyo Am on a box kick earning a breakup attempt for the former.
A penalty against the All Blacks for coming off the ground allowed Pollard to add three more from the tee at the quarter-game mark, before Beauden Barrett responded with a kick in kind five minutes before halftime.
The need to strike some balance put pressure on New Zealand after the break, but they failed to capitalize on the chances offered by an open encounter and Pollard was on hand to convert another penalty with less than a quarter of an hour remaining.
Seven minutes later, the second half made a field goal in the pocket to extend the hosts’ lead into double figures, and another from the tee with eight minutes left seemingly ended things for the Springboks.
There was an unfortunate late incident to spoil things as Arendse received a red card for taking Barrett in the air, with the former taken after the collision and the latter managing to get out on his own.
The man’s advantage allowed Shannon Frizell to make a late breakup attempt to reduce the deficit to single digits, but it was too late for the All Blacks as Willie Le Roux got a response after a loss of possession inside his own home. area of 22 in the final horn.
Springboks make modern history
Wins have been hard to come by in recent years for South Africa against the All-Blacks, but this result means they’ve recorded back-to-back wins over them for the first time since 2009.
With the World Cup defense in France looming, it represents a big result for the reigning champions as they look to triumph back-to-back on the biggest stage of all next year.
All Blacks hit 24-year low
The loss to the Springboks, however, dooms New Zealand to a third straight defeat, following back-to-back losses to Ireland earlier this year, and takes them to a low point in modern rugby.
They haven’t lost a trio of back-to-back Test matches since 1998, when they went five games without a win against Australia and South Africa during July and August. Coupled with five losses from their last six games, they need to rediscover their mojo quickly.