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By Sam Worthington with AP

Under-fire All Blacks manager Ian Foster raised his eyebrows as he called Sunday’s 26-10 loss to the Springboks ‘probably our best performance of the year’.

New Zealand were outplayed in scrums, blackouts and aerial contests as the world champions flexed their muscles in the opening of the Rugby Championship in an electric atmosphere in Mbombela.

The All Blacks have now lost five of their last six Tests under Foster and are set to drop to fifth in the world rankings when they officially exit next week.

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All Blacks beaten by Springboks as Ian Foster fights for the job

Their current status as fourth is already a historic low.

“In many ways, it was probably our best performance of the year,” Foster said.

“I think we did really well in the line-outs, we defended their training, we didn’t get any calls in that first half but our defense was really strong. It was a game dominated by the defense and some high ball errors. The timing was a fraction of their line speed.”

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All Blacks beaten by Springboks as Ian Foster fights for the job

Foster was very grumpy about how the Springboks contested the high kicks and indicated the All Blacks would raise their concerns with the officials.

“We’re going to see them throwing bodies at us again,” Foster said.

“Quite frustrated with that. The one in the first half that we weren’t very happy with and certainly that last one was very dangerous.

All Blacks beaten by Springboks as Ian Foster fights for the job

“It’s part of the game that we have to settle.”

The same teams meet at Ellis Park next weekend and Foster’s job hangs by a thread.

“There’s enough to show we’re headed in the right direction,” Foster said.

All Blacks beaten by Springboks as Ian Foster fights for the job

“It’s big test matches and it hurts to let him down. Obviously there’s a lot of pressure around the team at the moment and everyone is feeling that. It’s not easy, for be honest.”

The Springboks scored two tries, one early by winger Kurt-Lee Arendse and one late by substitute Willie le Roux as the All Blacks launched a desperate late attack deep in their 22 to try to save a some pride.

The Springboks were in control throughout and had a big territorial advantage to work with, although they finished with 14 men after Arendse was shown a red card – as he lay flat to receive medical treatment – for a very dangerous charge in the air on Beauden Barrette.

All Blacks beaten by Springboks as Ian Foster fights for the job

The Boks were leading 19-3 and heading for a big win when the All Blacks finally broke clear of the home defense in the dying minutes with a bust of winger Caleb Clarke.

He was narrowly drawn into an incredible tackle by Damian Willemse but substitute striker Shannon Frizell was on hand to score the All Blacks’ only try two minutes from time.

But Frizell was the man to drop a pass from captain Sam Cane soon after, allowing Le Roux to come on and score, and seal the win.

Handre Pollard, five eighth for the Springboks, scored 16 points while hooker Malcolm Marx was a breakdown threat and center Lukhanyo Am was generally superb.

Rugby’s most successful side were already in the midst of their worst run in 24 years following the historic home series loss to Ireland last month and are dangerously close to their worst run ever.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson only guaranteed Foster’s survival for the South Africa tour.

“It’s a damn tough time right now because we’re working really hard to get some parts of our game right,” Cane said.

“That first half we didn’t really throw a punch. They were very good tonight, played their footy game which can suffocate you.

“We didn’t take the ball high enough and we didn’t drive the breakdown well enough. It’s not like there was a lack of effort or belief. It’s a very difficult – we just have to get back on the horse.

“It’s not like we were far off the mark, but that doesn’t take away our disappointment.”

Meanwhile, inspirational Springbok captain Siya Kolisi praised the Mbombela crowd for their impact.

“Hopefully we play like that uplifts people,” Kolisi said.

“For many countries rugby is just a game – for us it’s much more than that.”

Kolisi added that he still had huge respect for the struggling All Blacks.

“I don’t care what people say, I know this team is strong.”

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