By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Replacement scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies scored a try in the final minute of play to help South Africa snatch a 16-16 draw with New Zealand in a tense Rugby Championship clash in Wellington on Saturday.
Jantjies pounced on an error by Aaron Smith to silence most of the soldout crowd, who had until the try been expecting a tight win for the world champions, and secure his team’s morale-boosting draw ahead of the World Cup.
The two traditional rivals meet in their Pool B opener in Yokohama on Sept. 21.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read said the hosts were “disappointed” with the result at the Wellington Regional Stadium.
“It was one of those things, the bounce of the ball in the 80th minute and you draw the test match,” Read told reporters.
“It’s a mixed feeling. We don’t go out there to draw. We want to win. Our shed is naturally down.”
Jack Goodhue scored the only try for the All Blacks after a scintillating break from Beauden Barrett, while the fullback and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga added the rest of the points from the boot.
Springboks flyhalf Handre Pollard kicked three penalties for the visitors, then held his nerve to slot the conversion that locked the scores at 16-16 and ended the game.
Jantjies, who scored two tries on debut against Australia last week, had replaced Faf de Klerk midway through the second half after the 27-year-old failed a head injury assessment.
The All Blacks will also be sweating on the fitness of their lock Brodie Retallick ahead of the World Cup after he dislocated his left shoulder.
“(Brodie is) on his way to hospital,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. “He has dislocated his shoulder. Whether he has fractured it we don’t know.
“We will just have to sit and wait.”
The match had been billed as one of experimentation by both teams as they fine tuned their World Cup preparations and it was just as intense as their last three matches, which had been decided by two points or fewer.
Neither side was able to truly stamp any authority on their opponents, although South Africa’s tactical kicking game and brutal defence kept them in the game when the All Blacks looked to have gone up a gear in the final quarter.
Early pressure by the Springboks had resulted in two penalties to Pollard to give them a deserved 6-0 lead before the game turned into an arm-wrestle between the 22-metre areas.
It was not until the 37th minute before All Blacks passes finally stuck when Barrett found space following a turnover and he passed inside to Goodhue, who ran 30 metres to give the home side a 7-6 lead at the break.
Barrett and Pollard traded penalties in the third quarter, with the injection of replacement players sparking the world champions, who began to finally get over the advantage line out wide.
Mo’unga then added two further penalties, the second to give the All Blacks a 16-9 lead with six minutes remaining before a fortuitous bounce of the ball off Smith while under pressure gave Jantjies the try that levelled the match.
“We were lucky at the end there,” Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus said.
“We are under no illusions that we could have lost this game, so to come away with a draw is very satisfying.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)