BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa (Reuters) - New Zealand retained the Rugby Championship title before facing Argentina in Buenos Aires on Saturday after Australia held South Africa to a 27-27 draw, their second successive stalemate in as many tests.
The All Blacks go into their test at Velez Sarsfield with 19 points from four matches, six ahead of South Africa before next weekend’s final away match against the Springboks. Australia have 10 points, Argentina none.
It is world champions New Zealand’s fifth title in six years since the former Tri-Nations tournament was increased to four teams with the introduction of Argentina in 2012.
Flyhalf Elton Jantjies had a chance in the final minute to win the match for the home side, who drew 23-23 with Australia in Perth three weeks ago and were looking to bounce back after a record 57-0 defeat in their last match against New Zealand.
But Jantjies hit his kick from a tight angle well wide soon after slotting in an easier effort to bring the Springboks level. Both sides scored three tries in an exhausting match at altitude with players on both teams looking as though they were out on their feet at the end of 80 minutes. Australia were 13-10 ahead at the break. Marika Koroibete, making his first start for the Wallabies, scored two tries but also gave away the penalty that might have led to his side’s defeat had Jantjies not squandered the chance.
Australia opened the scoring with an 11th-minute try from Israel Folau but the Boks replied within eight minutes as Ross Cronje set up the score with a pass that prop Ruan Dreyer took over the line.
Two penalties from Bernard Foley and a reply from Jantjies had Australia 13-10 up at halftime, after which came four tries in the space of 14 minutes as the two sides crossed over twice each.
Centre Jan Serfontein began the exchange in the 43rd minute as he dotted over after an initial burst down the wing by flanker Siya Xolisi to see the Boks go ahead for the first time.
But Xolisi missed a tackle four minutes later as Foley, winning his 50th cap for the Wallabies, set up a debut try for Koroibete.
Winger Courtnall Skosan showed strength as he went over the line with two tacklers on top of him to restore South Africa’s lead in the 49th minute with Jantjies converting for a narrow four-point lead.
Foley then again set up Koroibete for a third Wallabies try and the successful conversion from a difficult angle had the visitors three points ahead again.
Poor handling cost South Africa chances in the final 15 minutes but Jantjies tied the score with a penalty after Australia winger Reece Hodge was penalised for holding on to the ball nine minutes from time.
The Boks then had an opportunity for victory when Koroibete had his hands in the ruck but the kick was too difficult for Jantjies to convert.
“It looked like nobody wants to win it,” said Australia skipper Michael Hooper.
“It was good for the spectators but disappointing for us,” countered South Africa captain Eben Etzebeth.
Additional reporting by Rex Gowar; Reporting by Mark Gleeson,; Editing by Ed Osmond and Clare Fallon