The All Blacks fired late to claim a 41-13 bonus-point win in Christchurch and hand the Springboks their heaviest defeat since 2011. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Boks cannot match the All Blacks over a period of 80 minutes. This much was true during Heyneke Meyer’s tenure. The All Blacks won seven out of eight Tests against the Boks between 2012 and 2015, many of those via strong second-half performances.
On Saturday in Christchurch, the Allister Coetzee-coached side played its first Test against the All Blacks. The Boks were in the game for 50 minutes, despite some shocking decision-making and tactical kicking. Thereafter, the All Blacks moved up a gear to secure the victory as well as the bonus point.
It could be said that the performance in Christchurch showed how much this Bok side has regressed since South Africa last battled New Zealand at the 2015 World Cup. The scoreline alone could be held up as evidence. The 28-point defeat in Christchurch marks the Boks’ heaviest Test loss since 2011. On that occasion, a second-string Bok side lost 40-7 to the All Blacks in Wellington.
Some might view the Boks’ first-half showing in Christchurch as encouraging. Indeed, the Boks showed some terrific physicality at the breakdowns and collisions in those first 40 minutes. They combined well in the leadup to Bryan Habana’s try. The Bok winger ran a terrific angle to breach the All Blacks defence and propel the visitors into a 7-3 lead after 19 minutes.
But it was never going to last. While the All Blacks had their problems at the breakdowns and on defence in the first stanza, their kicking game was on point throughout. Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett troubled the Bok backline with a series of contestable kicks.
By contrast, the Bok halfbacks had a horrific evening with the tactical boot. Faf de Klerk’s box kicks rarely found the mark, while one probe for territory went directly out. Elton Jantjies sent one restart into touch, and was often guilty of kicking too deep and inviting the All Blacks to counter. In fact, it was one aimless hack that resulted in a try for Ben Smith in the 50th minute. That kick allowed the All Blacks to take control of the game.
The All Blacks weren’t at their best in the first half, but still managed to capitalise on a couple of the Boks’ mistakes. The visitors’ defence was caught out on two occasions during this period. Israel Dagg scored a simple try on the right wing after 22 minutes, and Julian Savea finished on the left after 28. The latter score marked Savea’s first try against the Boks in seven Tests.
The Bok hung in until half-time. Pieter-Steph du Toit was the star for the visitors during this period, as a ball-carrier and defender. Against most expectations, the All Blacks went to the break with a slender 15-10 lead.
But the Boks showed their lack of composure from the first play of the second half. Jantjies sent the kickoff directly into touch, and handed the All Blacks possession.
The Bok flyhalf made his biggest mistake of the evening in the 50th minute when he dropped into the pocket and booted the ball aimlessly downfield. The All Blacks set off down the right-hand flank, took the ball through multiple phases and then unleashed Ben Smith from close range. The Bok resistance was over.
From there, the All Blacks upped the tempo. Dane Coles, who was involved in both of the All Blacks’ first-half tries, showed his handling skills again in the 65th minute when he found an unmarked Sam Whitelock with a long spiralling pass.
The All Blacks did enough to finish the match without conceding further points. That said, the Bok attack asked few questions of the All Blacks defence in the second half, and only managed to register three points through a Jantjies penalty.
The result sees the Boks recording their third straight loss on the overseas leg of their Rugby Championship campaign. Never before have the Boks lost all three away games in Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.
The Wallabies beat Argentina in Perth to move to second place on the Rugby Championship log with 19 points. The result in Perth means that the All Blacks (20) have now taken an unassailable lead at the top of the log and have thus reclaimed the title.
All Blacks – Tries: Israel Dagg, Julian Savea, Ben Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Whitelock, TJ Perenara. Conversions: Beauden Barrett. (4). Penalty: Barrett.
Springboks – Try: Bryan Habana. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies (2).
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Springboks – 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Jaco Kriel, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Damian de Allende.
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images