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All Blacks grind out win

New Zealand remain unbeaten in this year's Rugby Championship after edging to a 14-10 win over South Africa in Wellington to deny Jean de Villiers victory in his 100th Test.

Richie McCaw's second-half try cancelled out Cornal Hendricks' effort in the first period, but two penalties from Aaron Cruden and another three-pointer from Beauden Barrett proved crucial as the All Blacks held on for their fifth consecutive victory over the Springboks.

The victory at the Westpac Stadium saw the All Blacks take a big step towards securing their third straight Rugby Championship title ahead of the crucial reverse fixture in Johannesburg next month.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was forced into making a couple of changes to his forward pack after Liam Messam and Sam Whitelock were injured in last weekend's victory over Argentina in Napier.

Steven Luatua replaced Messam at blindside flanker, while Jeremy Thrush joined Brodie Retallick in the second row in place of Whitelock. The third and final change saw Cruden recover from a pectoral injury to return at fly-half in place of Barrett.

The Springboks' only change saw 20-year-old starlet Handre Pollard return at fly-half with Morne Steyn dropped from Heyneke Meyer's squad altogether.

Cruden slotted an 11th-minute penalty to give the hosts a 3-0 lead after a slow start to proceedings in blustery conditions in New Zealand's capital.

South Africa coach Meyer's decision to include Pollard at number 10 proved to be an astute one when his defence-splitting inside pass found Cornal Hendricks and the wing evaded Israel Dagg's tackle to touch down in the 17th minute. Pollard added the conversion to give the Springboks a 7-3 lead.

The All Blacks, who had conceded only one try in three 2014 Rugby Championship encounters prior to this game, hit back with a ferocious drive by their forward pack and Cruden slotted a second penalty when French referee Jerome Garces penalised South Africa for being offside at the breakdown.

Cruden then peppered the left channel with a series of chip-kicks over the South Africa defence but full-back Willie le Roux mopped up the danger on every occasion and the Springboks went into the half-time break with a slender 7-6 lead.

The All Blacks started the second half in blistering fashion and went into an 11-7 lead when Richie McCaw dotted down in the corner after Kieran Read collected Cruden's pin-point cross-field kick, wrestled free from Le Roux's grasp and slipped a reverse pass to his skipper two metres from the try line.

Cruden could not add the extras from the touchline and, after Aaron Smith lost a foot race with Le Roux as the full-back touched down Cruden's grubber kick behind his try line for a 22-metre drop out, Pollard reduced the deficit to just one point with a sweetly struck drop goal.

Both sides made changes on the hour mark and South Africa had the chance to take the lead a few minutes later when the All Blacks were penalised for infringing at the breakdown, but Pollard could not slot his first penalty of the evening.

Julian Savea broke three South Africa tackles in a rampaging 50-metre run down the left wing and South Africa's sprawling defence were forced to concede a penalty which Barrett, on for Cruden, duly slotted to stretch the All Blacks' lead to 14-10.

South Africa kept plugging away and spent the final few minutes camped on the New Zealand try line but the All Black defence, despite losing possession in a scrum in the final moments, held firm to grind out the victory.


From Belfast Telegraph