The All Blacks punished the Springboks on the counter-attack and in the air to claim a 23-13 win in the Pool B opener on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI at the Yokohama Stadium.
The Boks will leave Yokohama with nothing but regrets. While the All Blacks deserve credit for making their chances count, the Boks must be wondering how they let so many great scoring opportunities – and ultimately the opportunity to bank a monumental victory – slip through their fingers.
The Boks dominated the All Blacks – both tactically and physically – for much of the first quarter. The defence hassled the All Blacks halfbacks and forced the outside backs to lose possession well behind the gainline on several occasions.
While all of this was playing out on the pitch, chants of ‘All Blacks!’ and ‘Bokke!’ echoed around the ground. At that stage of the game, the fans in green and gold must have been feeling confident about their side’s chances of victory.
The Boks would hammer into a collision, set up a box kick, and then win the ball back in the air. The manner in which the Boks executed this plan was a sight to behold. The All Blacks – with their inexperienced back three battling to read and neutralise the Boks’ kicking game – looked to be in deep trouble.
The scoreboard told a story, though, of an approach that had failed to yield any tangible dividends. After 21 minutes, the Boks had only three points to show for their efforts.
The All Blacks, by contrast, scored 17 in the space of six minutes. A spell of brilliance by the New Zealanders – which, to be fair, came on the back of South Africa’s mistakes and inaccuracies – determined the flow and outcome of the game.
The Boks made three big mistakes and the New Zealanders managed to turn every one of those opportunities into points. Pollard’s penalty attempt hit the post, and somehow the All Blacks managed to counter-attack and pick up a penalty at the other end of the field.
Duane Vermeulen then proceeded to drop a high ball. The All Blacks pounced to score from the turnover.
Pollard was the next man to misfield a high bomb and that mistake culminated in a Scott Barrett try. That score propelled the All Blacks into a commanding 17-3 lead at half time.
The Boks fought back in the second stanza and managed to expose the All Blacks on several occasions. They failed to replicate the dominance shown in the first 20 minutes, though, and had simply left themselves with too much to do in the latter stages.
The All Blacks weren’t at their best, but still managed to sink two clutch penalties as the game raced toward a climax. While there were times when the Boks threatened – with Cheslin Kolbe causing the All Blacks defence all sorts of problems – the South Africans struggled to keep the ball long enough to score.
Would this game have ended differently if Pollard had not hit the post with a penalty attempt in the 22nd minute? It may certainly have followed a different pattern.
What should concern coach Rassie Erasmus is the poor quality of the finishing as well as the game management in that first quarter. Had the Boks converted more of their opportunities into tries they would have forced the All Blacks to chase the game.
As it was, they were forced to chase the All Blacks for nearly three-quarters of the contest.
The result puts the All Blacks on the high road to the playoffs. They should win their remaining matches against Canada, Namibia and Italy to top Pool B.
The Boks, on the other hand, will have plenty to rectify in terms of their game management and finishing before they meet another top team in the knockout stages.
Springboks – Try: Pieter-Steph du Toit. Conversion: Handre Pollard. Penalty: Pollard. Drop goal: Pollard.
All Blacks – Tries: George Bridge, Scott Barrett. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (2). Penalties: Mo’unga (2), Beauden Barrett.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) September 21, 2019
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images