All Blacks Scrape Home

They could easily have scored right at the very end and won it. It’s a shame in a game like that, someone has to lose. I’m just happy it wasn’t us. All Black coach, Steve Hansen

Cliff-hanger at the Caketin

By Roger Childs

de Villiers and McCawIt was a near thing. The South Africans went within an ace of ending the All Blacks 20 game streak without a loss. For the last ten minutes they were hot on attack inside the New Zealand 22 and only resolute defence held them out. They needed a try to win the match, but came away with just one bonus point from the 10-14 loss. It was the typical tight game that you associate with the two top teams on the planet and there is a lot to look forward to in the return match at Ellis Park in three weeks time.

A team with plenty of class

Prior to Saturday’s match the Springboks had beaten the Argentinians twice and were probably robbed of victory against the Wallabies in Perth by poor officiating. They had not been in top form in any of these games, however the team that faced the All Blacks had plenty of talent and experience.

  • Jan de Villiers, the captain is one of the best second fives in world rugby.
  • Victor Matfield, is one of the best lineout forwards ever to play the game.
  • Brian Habana: one of South Africa’s best ever winger is very fast and elusive, and an excellent tackler.
  • Cornal Hendricks: on the other wing is a speedy and tricky runner.
  • Duane Vermeulen: is a fine number eight and a worthy match for Keiran Read.

Not unexpectedly, the old hands stepped up and some new talent such as teenage first five, Handre Pollard, made a significant contribution.

Pollard showed a lot of assurance passing well, carving off prodigious distances with his line kicking and dropping an excellent field goal. If the margin near the end had been two points, Pollard would have assuredly repeated the dose and won the match for the South Africans.

Two classic tries

There were only two in the match and they were both beauties.

The All Blacks had much the better of the first fifteen minutes, but despite a number of assaults inside the opposition 22 there were no tries. Then with their first serious period on attack the Springboks scored. Cornal Hendriks took an inside pass at speed and weaved his way through to score by the posts.

McCaw scoresIn the second spell inside the Springboks 22, Aaron Cruden spotted Read out on the wing and kicked across field. The number eight caught the ball, stood in the tackle and off-loaded to the flying McCaw who scored in the corner. The All Black captain had to make a lot of ground at speed to be in the right place at the right time: great stuff from the skipper.

A very tight match

The South Africans were up for the challenge and their defence was excellent. They often slowed the ball down in the rucks and prevented the All Blacks from having the space to make clean break in the backs.

It was very competitive in the forwards and the battle in the loose was intense. Duane Vermueulen was in great form in the back of the scrum and was a match for Keiran Read.

MatfieldThe All Blacks had some wobbly throws early in the match and Victor Matfield was the master in the lineout. However Retallick and Thrush contested the Springbok throws, and were rewarded in the second half with a couple of steals. (However it a mystery why the All Blacks often go to a lineout with the hooker not knowing who he will be throwing to. Surely it’s a decision to make before the lines form?)

In the scrums the Springboks probably won the battle. The All Blacks buckled a couple of times and it happened when the loose forwards lifted their head to see what was going on instead of sustaining the shove.

Luatua looked sharp early on, but was short of a gallop later in the game. In the second half he was replaced by Sam Cane and the Chiefs flanker quickly showed why he should be in starting line-up against Argentina.

Plenty to work on

Savea on attackThere were some impressive performances from individual All Blacks. Julian Savea was always a handful for the opposition on the wing and made ground every time he got the ball. Ben Smith showed his remarkable versatility when he moved to second five after Nonu didn’t return in the second half. Smith made a number of telling runs and tackled resolutely.

Retallick was all round the park in impressive style and Thrush stepped up to be an able replacement for Sam Whitelock.

However overall there were too many mistakes: kicking away possession, defensive lapses and loopy passes. There are plenty of areas which need improvement, if the All Blacks are to retain their Four Nations title. They will need to be at their best to win their last two matches on the road in Argentina and South Africa.

The arm wrestle in Wellington was a very close encounter and the Springboks could have won it. However it’s to the All Blacks credit that they held out. As McCaw commented after the game: It was desperate times and that shows the character when you dig deep like that.

 

(Thanks to expert rugby analysts Richard Belton, John Smith and Neil Smith for their thoughtful comments which contributed to the writing of this article.)