CAPE TOWN - Grim defence and superb discipline were the hallmarks of an outstanding All Black victory at a rain-soaked Newlands this morning, New Zealand taking first blood in the Tri-Nations with a 12-3 victory over South Africa.
First five-eighths Tony Brown kicked with four out of four penalties in the first ever try-less Tri-Nations match, while the Springboks missed four of their five opportunities.
All the points came in the first half, during which the rain relented, but it poured down throughout the second 40 minutes and the All Blacks reverted to a tight, forward-based game that eliminated errors and forced the increasingly desperate Springboks to spread the ball wide.
"The defence and character were great," All Black coach Wayne Smith said. "In conditions like these, that is what wins test matches."
Springbok fullback Percy Montgomery put his side in the lead with a long-range penalty in the first minute when the touch judge spotted some foul play from All Black prop Carl Hoeft, but they were to be the only points for the home side.
Several waves of attack were absorbed and rebuffed by the visitors and Montgomery added to his team's woes by missing two further kicks at goal, one attempt far simpler than his opening kick.
Each time the All Blacks got into Springbok territory they forced an error from the home side and Brown punished them all with four successful penalty kicks.
Tighthead prop Cobus Visagie, returning to national colours after his drugs ban was overturned on appeal, played the ball on the ground and new Springbok skipper Bobby Skinstad and winger Dean Hall were punished for the same offence.
Brown's fourth penalty, in the final minute of the first period, came after desperate Springbok hands tried to secure possession in a ruck.
Another surge of Springbok pressure at the beginning of the second half, lasting five minutes and at least ten phases of play, culminated in a five-metre scrum in front of the All Black posts, but lock Mark Andrews dropped the ball as Jonah Lomu's tackle stopped his surge for the line.
Yet another opportunity went begging with 20 minutes remaining when inside centre Robbie Fleck broke the All Black defensive line and skipped two tackles before off-loading to Skinstad 15 metres from the line. But that pass, too, was knocked on.
Although the All Blacks experienced repeated problems in the set-pieces, especially the lineout, they never suffered from the lack of quality possession and their back row, particularly man of the match Taine Randell, were superb.
"Both teams blew try scoring opportunities, either through their own mistakes or from solid defence," said All Black skipper Anton Oliver.
"I was impressed with our discipline because every time they got into kickable areas on the field we never gave away silly penalties. That comes from self-belief in your ability."
Montgomery missed his third kick at goal with seven minutes remaining and even the consolation of a bonus point - for losing by seven points or less - was denied the home side.
First five-eighths Butch James had one last chance put South Africa on the Tri-Nations scoreboard, but he pulled the final kick of the match wide of the posts.
(T Brown 4 pen)
(P Montgomery pen)
- REUTERS and HERALD ONLINE STAFF