It was, in so many ways, the sort of performance we’ve come to expect from this New Zealand side of late. Far from their usual perfection. A little rough around the edges, crinkled even. But at it’s core was the same clinical brilliance, the same unshakeable self-belief, the same moments of magic that have come to set them apart from their rivals. Because when the pressure is on, the All Blacks will always find a way to win. That’s exactly what they did here in Yokohama, securing a 23-13 victory over their fierce rivals.
That there were even question marks over who would emerge victorious from this clash alluded to the recent swings in momentum of these two sides. Whereas South Africa have picked themselves up from the lows of 2016, which saw the Springboks humiliated at the hands of the Italians, the All Blacks headed into this tournament with their usual aura of invincibility looking somewhat faded. With Steve Hansen placing his faith in the Richie Mo’unga-Beauden Barrett tandem, which had struggled against the Springboks in the summer’s 16-16 draw, New Zealand were under the spotlight for this fixture.
And so it proved to be the case, at least for the opening 25 minutes. South Africa were by far the better of the two teams as they asked question after question of their opponents. They were slicker with the ball in hand, more assured in their running. Their hits looked to pack a bigger punch as the All Blacks struggled to find their feet under the bright lights of Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium.
But in failing to capitalise on this, South Africa were duly punished. The flow of this match swung rapidly in the All Blacks' direction as they secured back-to-back tries, courtesy of George bridge and Scott Barrett, to seize control. This is what New Zealand do. This is what they’re capable of: a thumping great smack across the cheeks, with 14 points to boot.
South Africa showed their mettle in refusing to roll over, fighting back through a Pieter-Steph du Toit try seven minutes after the break. But New Zealand channeled their trademark composure to stem the flow of green shirts bearing down on their white line in the minutes that followed. Hansen’s men bedded in, slowed the match down and took the sting out of their opponent’s attack.
Two second-half penalties from the boot of Mo’unga made sure of the win, though the electric Cheslin Kolbe kept the reigning champions on their toes with two piercing runs down the right flank - both of which looked sure to end in a try, only to fall short.
This result means All Blacks have never lost a pool stage game, winning all 29 such fixtures. Having overcome what could well be their greatest obstacle of the tournament, they now look a sure bet to lift the Webb Ellis Cup come November.