Sports

Young guns help All Blacks maintain perfect record

The conveyor belt of New Zealand rugby talent continues to churn out players with the Midas touch.

Exciting young backs Damian McKenzie and David Havili proved crucial to the All Blacks' success as they pipped South Africa 25-24 in Cape Town yesterday morning (Singapore time) to finish the Rugby Championship with a 100 per cent record again.

With the lead changing hands several times in a keen contest, the 22-year-olds combined for a brilliant try in the 69th minute to help the All Blacks regain the initiative.

Their successful combination also underlined the depth of the world champions, who had to turn to their bench earlier than usual after a bruising confrontation with the Springboks.

Havili's break and a jinking run and burst of pace from McKenzie restored New Zealand's lead with a classic piece of counter-attacking at a time when the Boks looked to have the momentum heading into the final 10 minutes.

"You've got two young guys who are going to take a bucket-load of confidence out of being under an extreme amount of pressure and come out and know that they can do things well," said coach Steve Hansen after the narrow victory.

"There's no doubt that try was the catalyst for us winning the game."

McKenzie has proved his mettle during this year's Rugby Championship after taking over at fullback, while Havili made an impressive debut in last week's 36-10 win over Argentina and shone again when he came on against South Africa.

"Damian McKenzie's growing at fullback, even though deep down we don't really think that's his position.

"He's going to play a lot of five-eighth, I'd suggest, for the Chiefs with (Aaron) Cruden gone," Hansen said earlier this week of the youngster, drawing comparisons with All Black great Dan Carter.

"So there's a guy that could play both positions."

McKenzie, who has also played on the wing and at fly-half for the Kiwis, said after the test that he is happy to play wherever they put him.

Despite the defeat, South Africa had restored some pride after last month's record 57-0 loss to New Zealand. - REUTERS

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