SOWETO: New Zealand scored 20 unanswered second-half points to complete a perfect Rugby Championship campaign Saturday with a 32-16 triumph over arch rivals South Africa at Soccer City.
Down by 10 points early on and trailing 16-12 at half-time, the All Blacks reclaimed the lead 22 seconds into the second half through a try from veteran inside centre Ma'a Nonu and never looked back.
Lock Sam Whitelock, scrum-half Aaron Smith and outside centre Conrad Smith also scored tries and fly-half Dan Carter kicked three conversions, a penalty and a drop goal.
Bryan Habana claimed his seventh try this season in the southern hemisphere championship early on to raise South African hopes, but that was the only time the green and gold crossed the line.
Fly-half Johan Goosen kicked the conversion and a penalty before retiring injured late in the first half and replacement Elton Jantjies landed two penalties.
Coach Heyneke Meyer warned the Springboks before the battle of the highest ranked teams in the world that nothing less than an 80 per cent place-kicking success rate would give his team a chance, and his words proved prophetic.
Youngsters Goosen and Jantjies missed two kicks each to leave South Africa with only a 50 per cent success rate and so the poor record continued when aiming at the posts during the Championship.
"We could not get our hands on the ball in the first half and you can put the fact that we were still in the match down to a wonderful bunch of guys who have been together for some time," said All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
"It was much better for us during the second half and the boys were able to build pressure. What we worked so hard on during the week paid off," added the bruised and cut flanker.
Springboks captain and inside centre Jean de Villiers said: "We had to play catch-up rugby for too much of the game and that is pretty difficult against a quality team like the All Blacks.
"This is a young team and let us hope that we all learn from our mistakes. The team panicked at times in the closing stages and conceded some stupid penalties."
While the South African pack held its own, there was a yawning gap in class between the back lines with New Zealand managing to score two first half tries despite being virtually starved of possession.
New Zealand defeated South Africa, Australia and Argentina home and away and also picked up two bonus points for a total of 26 -- 14 more than South Africa, who could surrender second place if Australia beat Argentina later Saturday.
The All Blacks can now adjust their sights to creating two world records -- the most consecutive victories by a top-tier rugby nation and by a rugby nation -- with a Test in Australia and an end-of-season tour to Europe looming.
Wins in Australia this month and in Scotland next month will lift them to 18 triumphs on the trot and a new top-tier mark, and success in Italy will take them to 19 straight successes.
Reigning world champions New Zealand share the top-tier record of 17 consecutive Test victories with the Springboks, while minnows Lithuania have won 18 Tests in a row.
The Soweto showdown took a decisive turn toward the All Blacks early in the second half as they attacked from the kick-off and No 8 Kieran Read gave the vital pass to Nonu before Jantjies fluffed two penalty attempts.
New Zealand stretched the advantage to 26-16 on 52 minutes when a passage of play that started with left wing Hosea Gear evading three tackles ended with Conrad Smith diving over after slick handling following a scrum.
NEW ZEALAND 32 (Ma’a Nonu, Aaron Smith, Conrad Smith, Sam Whitelock tries Daniel Carter 3 cons pen drop goal) bt SOUTH AFRICA 16 (Bryan Habana try Johan Goosen con Elton Jantjies 2, Goosen pens) at FNB Stadium. Referee: Alain Rolland.