Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)
Soweto - New Zealand attacked with clinical precision to beat South Africa 32-16 on Saturday, ending the inaugural Rugby Championship with a perfect six wins from six games and hammering home their current dominance.
The world champion All Blacks, who had already won the southern hemisphere title with a game to spare, came back from 10-0 down in Soweto by crossing for four tries in just over 25 minutes for a 16th straight Test victory that was particularly convincing over their old rivals and closest challengers in the rankings.
New Zealand kept South Africa scoreless in the second half, all in front of 80 000 fans at the FNB Stadium.
"Although we're the second-best team in the world, we still have a long way to go," South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer said. "There's a huge difference between second and first."
Lock Sam Whitelock and scrumhalf Aaron Smith went over for the All Blacks in the first 40, and centres Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith swung the game completely with tries in the first 12 minutes of the second.
Having ridden an early wave from the Springboks - and Bryan Habana's 13th-minute try - the dominant All Blacks extended their perfect run in 2012 and moved within one win of equalling the 17-game record of consecutive victories by a top-tier test nation.
That was set by New Zealand in 1965-70 and equalled by South Africa in 1997-98, while Lithuania have the overall record with 18 straight wins.
New Zealand, with their current dominance, could take their run past 20 games by the end of the year.
"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We'll enjoy the moment for what it is, a great victory against a great opponent," coach Steve Hansen said. "Come Monday, the feet will be back on the floor."
New Zealand's superb reply to South Africa's early lead also gave captain Richie McCaw an incredible 100th Test win in his 112 Tests.
"It's pretty special, yeah, definitely," McCaw said. "I guess I don't often put personal stuff ahead of team stuff. You've got to be part of a pretty special team to do that (have 100 Test wins)."
McCaw called the away win over South Africa at their biggest stadium and up on the highveld "hugely satisfying."
South Africa finished their first southern hemisphere season under Meyer with a 2-3 record, plus a surprise draw in Argentina.
"A couple of soft moments... it was catch-up rugby from there, and against a quality team like New Zealand it's difficult to do," SA skipper Jean de Villiers said.
"This is a young team and let us hope that we all learn from our mistakes. The team panicked at times in the closing stages and conceded some stupid penalties."
From a good start, South Africa worked the ball for flanker Willem Alberts to smash a hole in New Zealand's defence and set up the first score. His attempted offload was fumbled backward by New Zealand, only for De Villiers to regain possession and send Habana free on the right wing for his fourth try in two games.
Johan Goosen converted and added a penalty in the 22nd for a 10-0 lead to South Africa, but the young No 10 didn't last the half before leaving with what appeared to be a recurrence of a heel injury.
Having been pressed for the first quarter of the game, the All Blacks struck with speed and accuracy in the 26th after a missed touch finder for the home team. The All Blacks went across the field, and Hosea Gear committed two defenders to give Kieran Read enough space to send a final pass to Whitelock for the try in the left corner.
The world champions scored again within eight minutes. Left wing Gear, recalled to the team for the rested Julian Savea, again made the decisive break and went inside this time to give Aaron Smith a clear run to the posts.
Replacement flyhalf Elton Jantjies kicked two penalties late in the first 40 for the home team, the second right on half-time, to push South Africa ahead 16-12 at the break.
But New Zealand's backs kept breaking with devastating accuracy, and the visitors led again for the final time within seconds of the restart.
Fullback Israel Dagg made South Africa pay this time with a shimmy between two tacklers and passed over the top for outstanding No 8 Read to go within a metre and pass out of a tackle to Nonu.
Jantjies missed two kicks at goal in the first 10 minutes of the second as the Boks hopes of ending their up-and-down championship with a win slipped away.
New Zealand's backline, which was dangerous in nearly every attack, set up a fourth try for centre Smith in the 53rd off a scrum 10m out.
Flyhalf Daniel Carter's snap drop goal in the 65th minute, as the home team faded, and another penalty put the All Blacks out to 32-16 and out of reach, ramming home a dominant showing in the first four-nation tournament following the introduction of Argentina.
The All Blacks then defended as superbly as they had attacked, holding out the Bok forwards and finishing the stronger team to move three games off breaking the all-time record for consecutive test victories that would leave no doubt over their status as the best team in rugby.
Try: Bryan Habana
Conversion: Johan Goosen
Penalties: Goosen, Elton Jantjies (2)
Tries: Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Ma'a Nonu, and Conrad Smith.
Conversions: Dan Carter (3)
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Elton Jantjies, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Patrick Lambie
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Tamati Ellison
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