Amazing Sports Stories 10: Best Test?

It’s a special feeling to win here at Ellis Park. All Black skipper Ritchie McCaw

A scintillating display by the All Blacks and Springboks

By Roger Childs

Rubgy test advertRugby historians and journalists will look back on this test as being one of the greatest of all time. This was the climax of the 2013 Rugby Championship and the South Africans needed to win with four tries and deny the All Blacks a bonus point. A lot was expected of the match and the Springboks, playing in their Johannesburg fortress of Ellis Park in front of over 60,000 partisan fans, had the home advantage.

The game exceeded expectations and had a bit of everything:

~ nine tries
~ a number of near tries
~ three players yellow carded
~ several injuries
~ most players on the bench getting a run
~ an All Black player not on the team sheet getting on the field
~ the referee sustaining an injury.

The pulsating start is sustained

The first ninety seconds set the tone as both sides threw the ball around and most players got a touch as the action seesawed up and down the field. Then the individual brilliance of wings on both sides increased the tempo and excitement.

  • A wonderful offload by Kieran Read sent Ben Smith on a weaving run where he beat four players to score by the posts.
  • Then the wonderful Bryan Habana, one of the greatest wingers of all time, scored two tries in quick succession with some wonderful finishing. The Springboks were suddenly out to a 15-7 lead.

A try by Liam Messam by the posts closed the gap to one point and then, with less than a minute on the clock to half time, the Springboks dropped their guard. Messam scored again after some excellent passing and backing up, to put the All Blacks were ahead 21-15 at the break.

An amazing second half

The All Blacks had two forwards in the bin so played with just 14 men for twenty minutes of this half. A rare mistake by Dane Coles in overthrowing into the lineout near the All Black line, led to the Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers bursting over near the posts to give the Springboks the lead 27-21 and a bonus point for the fourth try.

The high altitude of Ellis Park was taking its toll on both teams and the coaches emptied the benches, and there was still plenty of drama to come.

  • Barrett replaced Cruden at first five and as he did in two tests against the French earlier in the 2013 season, scored a try. This was a beauty as he evaded four tacklers to dot down under the posts.
  • There were two near misses. Nonu in a barging run to the posts just failed to score. Then for the Boks, right wing Willie le Roux was flying for a try in the corner but was just nudged into touch by Barrett.
  • Substitute hooker, Dane Coles, was on the field but not on the team sheet! Has this ever happened before?
  • Springbok hooker, Bismarck du Plessis, didn’t want to leave the field when replaced!
  • Referee Nigel Owens, who officiated very well, suffered a calf strain with a few minute to go.

All Blacks v South AfricaIn the end the All Blacks were the fitter team and clinched the victory. A break down the left late in the second half by Savea saw the winger set up Read with a perfect pass for a try under the posts. At 38-27 this put the game beyond the reach of the tiring South Africans.

Two great teams

You can see why they are numbers one and two in the world. Commentator Grant Nisbet

Both sides contributed to the spectacle and it was a titanic struggle between the two best teams on the planet. For the South rugby actionAfricans, Habana’s tries were special and it was cruel misfortune that shortly after, he pulled a hamstring and had to be replaced. Skipper De Villiers lead from the front and scored a crucial try; Duane Vermeulen was impressive in the loose and set up one of the Habana tries and young lock Eben Etzebeth was imposing in the lineout and showed speed around the field.

The All Black forwards wore their opposites down. Messam, Whitelock, Woodcock and Hore were particularly impressive. Skipper McCaw, coming back from injury, lasted the eighty minutes well and Read stepped up after his average display against the Pumas the previous week.

The backs all played well. The three Smiths all made significant contributions and Savea showed his versatility in taking the high ball, running strongly and setting up other players with well timed passes. Nonu was everywhere, tackling ferociously, running powerfully, foraging in the rucks and even scrumming down when Messam and Franks were yellow carded.

Only one winner

So from nine tests to this point, the All Blacks had nine convincing wins.The victory at Ellis Park was probably the most satisfying, as it clinched their second unbeaten run in row in the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship.

The South African fans would have gone home unhappy, but in years to come will remember that they were present at one of the greatest rugby test matches ever played.