The Springboks dominated the set pieces in the first half of the Rugby Championship match in Wellington, but struggled at times in the second, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
After being schooled by the Pumas in Pretoria and Salta, the Bok scrum was much improved against the Wallabies in Perth, winning three scrum penalties.
Their true test, though, was always going to come against the All Blacks with the first scrum crucial in terms of setting the tone for the match. And the Boks made big a statement when, in the fifth minute, they put the hosts under pressure with a double shove.
The Boks went on to win a free kick and a penalty from first-half scrums, and were solid in the others.
The first time the referee spoke to the Bok front row was early in the second half when Beast Mtawarira was told to open his shoulders. That was followed by the All Blacks' best scrum of the game so far.
Soon after, Jannie du Plessis was harshly penalised when Mtawarira had popped Owen Franks. Du Plessis was nailed again five minutes later for going down, before the Bok scrum disintegrated on halfway and New Zealand were given the put in.
Heyneke Meyer brought Bismarck du Plessis off the bench in the 55th minute, Trevor Nyakane in the 67th and Marcel van der Merwe in the 78th.
The Boks had a good scrum in the 70th minute, and then dominated the All Blacks pack 5m out with two minutes to go, to give themselves one last chance to score a match-winning try. The Boks won the subsequent scrum, from which Duane Vermeulen broke away, but Lood de Jager went into touch and the opportunity was lost.
The Bok lineout also started the match superbly, with Victor Matfield stealing the All Blacks' ball in just the second minute.
Matfield was the Boks' go-to man for most of the game, winning six balls, all from four-man lineouts. One of them, in the 18th minute, led to Cornal Hendricks' try.
The Boks also used Vermeulen on a couple of occasions, as well as replacement Warren Whiteley later on.
However, South Africa did lose three consecutive lineouts, from the 55th to the 65th minutes, following Bismarck du Plessis's introduction for Adriaan Strauss, whose throwing had been immaculate. Du Plessis's first two throws were poached by Brodie Retallick and the third went over the top.
But the Boks finished the game well, winning their last three lineouts.
It took the visitors half an hour to set up their first maul. It came from a four-man lineout and they took play from 5m inside their own half to 10m inside New Zealand's.
The Boks also set up two lineout driving mauls in the 73rd and 75th minutes, after kicking penalties to the corner. On both occasions, the All Blacks were penalised for coming in from the side. Unfortunately, though, the Boks' 76th-minute lineout was untidy which prevented them from mauling again.
As for the rucks, Marcell Coetzee won the first turnover of the game when he drove past the All Blacks players. Vermeulen also won the Boks a penalty at the breakdown early on, and forced a turnover early in the second half, while Bismarck du Plessis did the same soon after coming off the bench.
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