Hooker Dane Coles gave a masterclass in backline playmaking to set up three New Zealand tries as the world champions thrashed South Africa 41-13 to all but secure the Rugby Championship title on Saturday.
Coles made the final pass for tries to Israel Dagg, Julian Savea and Sam Whitelock, while Ben Smith, Ardie Savea and TJ Perenara also crossed to secure the bonus-point victory.
Beauden Barrett slotted four conversions and a penalty for the home side, who have moved to 20 competition points and all but sealed the Rugby Championship with two games remaining.
Springboks winger Bryan Habana scored his 66th test try, three short of the world record of Japan’s Daisuke Ohata, while flyhalf Elton Jantjies added a conversion and two penalties for the visitors.
The All Blacks, who have now won 44 successive matches at home since they were beaten by John Smit’s Springboks in 2009, extended their current unbeaten run to 15 games.
The hosts only had a 15-10 lead at halftime as they struggled to get any flow, but like they did last week against Argentina, the side kicked away in the final 30 minutes with four tries.
“We were probably a bit guilty of playing too much footy and making mistakes,” Coles said. “They played some pretty good footy in that first half and put us under pressure.”
The All Blacks’ intent had been evident from the beginning of the game as they stretched the Springboks, with scrumhalf Aaron Smith’s pass giving them opportunities to operate at pace.
Too many times, however, they dropped the ball or lost it at the breakdown, which allowed the Springboks to clear their lines, just when it seemed like they would be cracked open.
The visitors, written off before the game after an indifferent season, also showed glimpses of the high-paced game they are trying to adapt, turning the All Blacks defenders inside out several times.
“We were in it in the first half when we had ball in hand and when we were in their territory we were effective,” Springboks captain Adriaan Strauss said.
One such foray led to Habana’s 19th-minute try, which was set up by number eight Warren Whiteley, who put the winger into space with a beautifully timed pass.
That stung the All Blacks, with Coles demonstrating the skills that have helped the team move ahead of the rugby world when he made a no-look pass to put Dagg over following an attacking scrum.
The hooker then got his hands free in the tackle to pop a pass around a defender to give Savea his 43rd test try – his first against South Africa – before setting up his third in the second half, sending a 15-metre pass to Whitelock, who was lurking on the wing