JOHANNESBURG (AP) — New Zealand lost a 15-point lead and then produced two tries in the last six minutes to come from behind and beat South Africa 35-23 in the Rugby Championship on Saturday to possibly save coach Ian Foster's job.
New Zealand's victory was unexpected and gutsy, and it ended a run of three straight losses — and five losses in the All Blacks' last six tests — that put Foster on the brink of being fired and rugby's most successful team under immense scrutiny.
Foster still said he had “no idea” if the win was enough for him to stay as coach.
“I am just going to enjoy tonight,” he said.
The All Blacks had promised this week that they would give everything against the world champions at Ellis Park — one of the toughest places to play — to end that losing run. They were true to their word as they dug deep in the dying minutes after seeing an early 15-0 lead wiped out and the Springboks go ahead by two points at 23-21.
New Zealand launched a length-of-the-field attack, finished off by center David Havili, to snatch the lead back in the 74th while down to 14 men with replacement Beauden Barrett’s yellow card. The All Blacks added another try right at the end through a close-range drive by lock Scott Barrett to secure a deserved win that might have eased the pressure on Foster.
“It has never been a question of how much we care or how much we want it, we just needed to get a few parts of our game right," New Zealand captain Sam Cane said. “It was a massive challenge coming here ... and the group stepped up massively, so hugely proud.
“A massive thank you to everyone who has been supporting us, particularly through the last month which has been pretty challenging."
Cane and hooker Taukei’aho Samisoni scored tries in the first half as New Zealand fronted up to the Springboks' forward pack, gained dominance at the breakdown and got a healthy supply of possession, and were able to attack out wide in a way they couldn't do in last weekend's 26-10 loss to the Springboks.
The early surge by New Zealand saw Cane crash over in the right corner in the 28th after a sweeping attack to silence 61,000 at Ellis Park. Samisoni found his way over in the left corner five minutes later.
Flyhalf Richie Mo'unage kicked that touchline conversion for Samisoni's try in his 15 points and rewarded Foster by calling him into the starting lineup with an assured performance as the All Blacks' playmaker.
South Africa replied with tries by Lukhanyo Am, who was shifted from center to right wing in the opening 10 minutes after Jessie Kriel was knocked over by a rampaging run by New Zealand's Caleb Clarke and left with a head injury. Am got one back by breaking through a tackle by Clarke to score just before halftime.
Handré Pollard landed a penalty from inside his own half after the halftime hooter to close it to 15-10. Wing Makazole Mapimpi crossed midway through the second half after having one disallowed a few minutes earlier and Pollard's boot put the home team 23-21 ahead in the 68th minute, the first time the Boks led.
It was also the only time because of the All Blacks' bold but composed finish.
“We fought back really well in the second but we slipped up in one moment,” South Africa captain Siya Kolisi said. “We fell asleep and that’s what they can do to you when that happens.”
The game-breaking moment came from Rieko Ioane's break down the left touchline, which took the All Blacks 50 meters downfield before a series of phases ended up with Ioane's center partner Havili reaching out and planting the ball on the tryline to swing it back New Zealand's way.
Barrett's score with a minute to go rammed home the comeback.
“There’s a few doubters back home but there’s always going to be. We know what we have in this team,” Ioane said.
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