Despite losing on Saturday (Oct 5), the Springboks played brilliantly – as was expected. Because of bonus points they needed to win and score four tries.
To the credit of coach Heyneke Meyer, the ’Boks played to win the championship, not just the game, and ran the ball with daring effectiveness. The brilliant Bryan Habana scored two tries, before being replaced after injuring his hamstring.
The ’Boks scored their fourth try with 20 minutes remaining on the clock.
Two minutes later, the dream of a brilliant win was stolen by replacement NZ flyhalf Beauden Barrett, when he sliced through the defence to score untouched—securing the bonus point that gave the All Blacks the championship.
Minutes later man-of-the-match, All Black No.8 Kieran Read scored, virtually securing both the match and championship.
The result aside, the game lived up to expectation. Both sides played expansive rugby, with the aggression both sides are known for.
The lead changed eight times—final score 38-27. The score is a fair measure of the game—but not of the Springboks contribution to the game.
The two captains, Richie McCaw and Jean de Villiers, showed character.
McCaw returned following an injury break, yet led from the front at Johannesburg, where the high altitude causes fatigue faster.
The rugby site, Keo wrote: “There are no superlatives to do justice to McCaw. He hadn’t played for a month and wasn’t expected to play for another two weeks because of torn knee ligaments. He not only started but played 80 minutes, with 60 of them in a pack of only seven”.
With the game hanging in the balance, de Villiers defused a technical indiscretion that could have had significant consequences for NZ.
An assistant referee had stopped the game, saying that the All Blacks had used a replacement who was not listed in the team sheet. As officials debated what to do, de Villiers arrived and said something, which resolved the matter.
All Black coach Steve Hansen said it was a clerical error. He praised de Villiers for his action.
The South Africans had been affected by poor refereeing in the first match between the sides.
That controversy was part of the pre-match hype. But the quality of the game—and NZ’s emphatic victory – have resolved that.
In the final analysis, it was composure that secured victory for the All Blacks. That composure only comes from experience.
Paradoxically, while All Blacks have experience, they continue to blood young players like Barrett and the young half-back Aaron Smith.
Given their dominance at Ellis Park, where wins to visitors are rare, and the number of young players, it’s possible that this side could go on to gain legendary status.
Wallabies vs Pumas
Meanwhile, Australia Wallabies found form against Argentina Pumas to win 52-7 in Rosario.
The positive play by the Wallabies suggests new coach Ewen McKenzie is finally getting his message across – or more accurately, his players were finally able to execute his expansive game plan.
That bodes well for the future—which looks foreboding.
The Wallabies face the All Blacks in Dunedin on Saturday week (Oct 20), for the last of the Bledisloe Cup games, which NZ has already retained.
While on Australia, code-hopping star Sonny Bill Williams was part of the Roosters side, which won the Australian National Rugby League championship on Sunday Oct 6. Rumours continue that he will play rugby union for the Chiefs in the Super 15 next year, so he is eligible to play for the All Blacks in the next world cup.
Peter Lalanabaravi is a rugby writer with over 30 years experience.