AUCKLAND – The All Blacks produced their best display of the year to trounce South Africa by a record 57-0 and take a firm grip on the Rugby Championship in Auckland on Saturday.
The eight-try victory surpassed the All Blacks’ previous best 57-15 win over the Boks in Durban last year, and it was South Africa’s heaviest defeat, eclipsing their 53-3 loss to England at Twickenham in 2002.
It was only the fifth time in the 94-Test history between the fierce rivals that the Springboks have been kept scoreless.
With the backline standing slightly deeper than they have in recent weeks, the All Blacks eliminated many of the handling errors that had been plaguing them.
“We came in tonight pretty clear about how we wanted to play and what we wanted to achieve and a lot of those things came off,” coach Steve Hansen said.
“We started a bit jittery. There was a lot of dropped ball or bobble ball, but once we got in to the rhythm of the game, I thought we played probably as good as we’ve played for a long time.”
It was a performance that showed when the All Blacks click there is a huge gulf between the first- and third-ranked sides two years out from the next World Cup, and left Springbok coach Allister Coetzee distraught.
“I won’t say it was a horror movie, but...” he said, searching for words to describe his disappointment.
“We played our best rugby in those (first) 20 minutes. Ball-in-hand, we felt on top and we dominated collisions, and then one pass goes astray and you’re under the pulse.
“I’m obviously very disappointed and the players are hurting, and it’s definitely not through lack of effort. Passages of great defence, passages of great attack, but we couldn’t break them. They were too good.”
The Springboks opened with a typically physical start in which they bossed the All Blacks for the first quarter hour, until in the space of four minutes the New Zealanders turned the game with back-to-back tries by Rieko Ioane and Nehe Milner-Skudder.
With forwards running like backs, the All Blacks added further tries by Scott Barrett and Brodie Retallick in the countdown to halftime to turn with a 31-0 lead.
Milner-Skudder, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Lima Sopoaga and Codie Taylor scored in the second half.
The win kept the All Blacks unbeaten after four rounds of the Rugby Championship and lifted them eight points clear of South Africa with only away matches against Argentina and the Springboks remaining.
Despite the lopsided scoreline, the opening stanza belonged to South Africa when Eben Etzebeth, Jean-Luc de Preez and Uzair Cassiem led a muscular approach.
They won penalties off the first two scrums, stole the All Blacks’ first lineout and drove through holes close to the ruck.
But their dominance was hindered by a succession of handling errors, and a chance to put points on the board via a penalty by the usually reliable Elton Jantjies fell short.
Instead, it was the All Blacks who scored first from a Beauden Barrett penalty, the first of eight successful shots at goal as the flyhalf rediscovered the kicking radar that abandoned him last week against Argentina.
Then came the tries as the All Blacks responded with lineout steals and scrum penalties of their own.
Aaron Smith took a quick penalty on halfway and chipped the ball towards the corner, with Ioane winning the race for the ball.
Milner-Skudder’s first try came from his intercept in New Zealand territory, and he finished off the move after some classy interplay with Beauden Barrett to beat the cover defence.
As the All Blacks dug further into their bag of tricks, hooker Dane Coles leaped high to tap a Beauden Barrett cross kick into the arms of replacement flank Scott Barrett, who scored the third try.
Coles was on hand again to play the link-man between Ioane and Retallick.
The Springboks started the second half strongly, but once the initial drive wore off the All Blacks returned to their try-scoring ways, bringing up the record with Taylor’s try from a lineout drive on fulltime.