The All Blacks deserve credit for their win against the Springboks in Wellington, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day newspaper.
Two teams play a Test so any analysis should consider the merits of both teams. For South Africa to move forward and close the gap that exists between one and two, it's crucial that we recognise a team in black also played in Saturday’s epic Test – and they actually won.
There has been agreement, on social media and in the mainstream media that this was the Springboks’ best performance in two seasons. There are also many statements that it was also the All Blacks’ worst, which could explain why there is never a sense of satisfaction among South Africans on those post-Test Mondays and that there is always more confusion than contentment.
Former Springbok coach Andre Markgraaff, in Rapport newspaper, echoed the sentiment that it was among the finest Bok performances. He identified the lineout, with Victor Matfield at the fore, as being a strength but then noted the All Blacks, without Sam Whitelock, were weak in the lineout. Markgraaff praised the Boks for many aspects of their game but then remarked the All Blacks were poor on the day.
What does that say then? That the Boks at their best still aren’t good enough to beat the All Blacks at their worst?
I disagree. Both teams were very good in many areas.
Former Springbok flank Rob Louw was quoted as saying the Boks threw the game away, lauded the contribution of the Bok loose forwards and felt it necessary to dismiss the contribution of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, saying he was nowhere in the game.
McCaw was hardly nowhere because he was somewhere in collecting the ball from Kieran Read and beating the cover defence to score the try that proved the difference between winning and losing. It was McCaw’s fifth against the Boks and his 25th in 131 Tests, of which he has been on the losing side just 13 times.
I don’t think there is a Test match in which McCaw is nowhere.
In the context of the Wellington Test, McCaw’s contribution would have been very different to any of the South African loose forwards because New Zealand controlled field position and possession for the entire match. They made almost double the passes and South Africa made almost double the tackles.
But it triggered an intrigue as to the contribution of McCaw in the Rugby Championship, as opposed to Louw, whose performances have won rave reviews every weekend.
The two both played four matches, but Louw’s fourth match was cut short in the 47th minute in Wellington, so McCaw’s game time is 310 minutes against 276. On attack the return of the two players is such: McCaw leads ball carries 30-12, McCaw leads running metres 62-18, he leads clean breaks 1-0 and he leads passes made 20-13. He has stolen one lineout to Louw’s nil and made one clean linebreak to Louw’s nil. He has beaten two defenders on attack to Louw’s one and the South African has won three lineout throws to McCaw’s two. McCaw has also scored three tries to Louw’s nil.
On defence, McCaw has made 54 tackles to Louw's 39 and missed five to Louw’s four. Louw has won four turnovers to McCaw’s two.
I would hardly say McCaw was nowhere in Wellington and he certainly hasn’t been nowhere in this Rugby Championship.
I would also not boast about the superiority of the South African lineout in Wellington because an assessment is made over the duration of the match and not just the finest moments to support a point of view.
Matfield has indeed given stability, presence and authority to the Springbok lineout and this was illustrated in the first 40 minutes. Unfortunately, the lineout attack wasn’t a factor because the All Blacks enjoyed a near 70% territorial advantage.
The reality of this Test is the All Blacks won because they played the big points better and enjoyed the better of the big moments – and that is what usually differentiates the winners from the losers on the biggest sporting stage.
The Bok lineout buckled in the biggest moment of the game, when the Boks kicked to the corner with less than two minutes to play, in the hope of setting up a maul that would lead to a match-winning try.
The All Blacks repelled the first maul, but gave away the penalty. They then got a hand to the Bok lineout throw on the second penalty and forced the Boks to attack in another way.
And when the Boks scrum smashed the All Blacks to win the scrum feed, 10m out and with a minute to go, it was New Zealand’s defence that held firm and South Africa’s attack that screamed of panic.
McCaw was also on hand to tidy up a last lineout throw which secured New Zealand possession and the match. I’d argue the New Zealand captain was hardly nowhere but almost certainly everywhere he needed to be in the big moments.
I thought the Boks played well, but then I also thought New Zealand played well. It was a fantastic Test of the arm-wrestle variety and New Zealand deserved the win on the basis of how they technically won the big moments.
They have now beaten the Boks nine out of the last 10 times and they have lost just one and drawn two in their last 36 Tests.
Yet, every time a team runs them close, all I read is the All Blacks are beatable. Of course they are beatable, but being beatable and being beaten is not the same thing.
The Boks are one of five teams to have pushed the All Blacks. France were close in Paris, England were close in Auckland, Ireland were close in Dublin and Australia were close in Sydney.
But the great teams know how to win ugly and the very good ones know how to win pretty. The All Blacks have shown an ability to be very good and great.
The challenge for the Boks is to stop obsessing with what New Zealand has achieved and start obsessing with what they want to achieve and being honest about the areas in which they are not achieving.
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