It is a pleasure to play against them. Jean de Villiers, Springbok captain (South Africa 27 — New Zealand 25)
The two best teams light up Ellis Park
By Roger Childs
For the second successive year, the All Blacks and Springboks played out a pulsating rugby test in front of over 60,000 fans in Johannesburg. In 2013 it was a nine try thriller which the All Blacks eventually won decisively. On Saturday it went down to the wire, with the South Africans only winning the match with two minutes to play. With three tries apiece it could have gone either way and both sides contributed to a memorable match.
Man of the match: Handre Pollard
The 20 year old Pollard was a star in South Africa’s winning of the Under 20 World Championships in New Zealand earlier in the year. Drafted into the Springbok team for the Four Nations he has made a huge impact. Traditionally the South Africans have had defensive kicking first fives like Morne Steyn, but Pollard likes to run the ball.
He made a big impression in the recent close test in Wellington, then on Saturday he had a sensational first half. Pollard:
~ set his backline going with slick passing
~ tackled well and pulled down Savea when the winger got away down the left flank
~ gained huge distances with his line kicks
~ decided to pass rather than kick in his own 22 and started a movement which saw half back Francois Hougaard score under the posts
~ scored two superb tries himself, taking on the line and beating three players each time
~ converted all three tries.
First half to South Africa
It was three tries to one and the Boks also went close on other occasions. The backs always looked dangerous and the defensive work was excellent.
The forwards were generally quicker to the loose ball led by Duane Vermeulen, and make impressive use of the nearly 60% possession they enjoyed. Vermeulen suffered a rib injury last week and was not expected to play, however he had an inspired match.
The All Blacks were competitive, but lacked the space to move which they had had last week in Argentina. There were also missed tackles, Dagg guilty on two occasions, and Barrett and others should have nailed Pollard. The forwards also turned over the ball too often and the commanding presence of Brodie Retallick was sorely missed.
However, their first half try was a beauty. Kieran Read cleared the ball quickly from a ruck after Savea’s excellent run down the left hand side. Beauden Barrett gave a short pass to Fekitoa who jinked past two players to dot down under the posts.
Barrett had earlier kicked two penalties to keep the All Blacks in the game, however the Springboks thoroughly deserved their 21-13 half time lead.
The All Blacks hit back
The Springboks continued the pressure early in the second half, and Jean de Villiers went close to scoring when Conrad Smith only just beat him to the touchdown over the All Black line. It was in fact the same Smith who broke the deadlock after Pollard had kicked a penalty to stretch the home team’s lead to 24- 13.
An excellent break down the right flank by Conrad Smith would have resulted in a try but the pass was intercepted. Then with less that 20 minutes to go, he beat two players and threw a long pass to Ben Smith who wrong-footed the opposition to score. Barrett put over the conversion and the All Blacks were within striking distance.
A number of substitutions were made on both sides and the New Zealand reserves played particularly well, especially Coles, Faumuina and Messam. The Springboks remained competitive and tackled well, but as the game wore on, the All Blacks were getting on top. McCaw led from the front and won some superb turnovers.
With ten minutes to go, the forwards combined to score an extraordinary try. They made up a backline out to the left and the passes went from Luatua to McCaw to Faumuina to Read to Coles who dotted down. Barrett missed his only kick of the night, however the All Blacks were ahead 25-24.
A dramatic finish
In the 77th minute on the Springbok side of half way Scott Burger ducked under a high tackle from Messam who didn’t use his arms. It might have been missed by the referee, but captain de Villiers wanted Wayne Barnes to go to the TMO.
The decision will be argued about, as Burger had ducked down, but Barnes ruled Messam had hit Burger’s head and did not use both his arms.
The rest is history. Replacement first-five Patrick Lambie, who minutes before had missed a relatively easy drop kick opportunity, kicked the resulting 55 metre penalty, It never looked like missing and went over with metres to spare, to the delight of the 60,000 Springbok fans.
It was another classic match between the two best teams in the world and it took a monumental effort by the Springboks to end the All Blacks 22 game unbeaten run.