The All Blacks delivered a typically superior fourth-quarter showing to beat the Springboks 27-20 on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI at Ellis Park.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen this movie before. It ends with cheers for the All Blacks, and tears for the Boks.
The Boks dominate the initial exchanges. They hold the lead as the game enters the decisive final quarter. In those final 20 minutes, however, they begin to tire. They begin to make mistakes.
By contrast, the All Blacks move up a gear as the game races towards its climax. Their superior fitness comes to the fore. Their option-taking is outstanding, and their execution is flawless.
Saturday’s Test at Ellis Park was a rerun of the old Boks vs All Blacks movie. There was so much to be pleased with in those first 60 minutes. There was reason to believe that the Boks were in control. And then, at the death, there is the inevitable twist. The All Blacks make the big play. The All Blacks win.
The Boks were dominant in that first period, with Lood de Jager producing a commanding performance at the lineout and in the loose, and Jesse Kriel and Willie le Roux combining to play some thrilling attacking rugby.
But the All Blacks had the final say at the end of the half, with debutant Lima Sopoaga searing down the right flank, and delivering an inspired pass to Ben Smith. The conversion by Sopoaga levelled the scores at 10-10.
The All Blacks absorbed a lot of pressure in the third quarter, and even managed to deny De Jager a try. In the 57th minute, however, Sam Whitelock was yellow-carded for a cynical infringement at the breakdown.
Bok captain Schalk Burger then made a bold, and in retrospect, costly decision. The Boks were awarded a penalty, and Burger turned down an opportunity for three easy points.
Burger opted for a scrum. The seven-man All Blacks pack held their own, forced the turnover, and cleared the ball upfield.
Unforgivably, the Boks failed to score a single point while the All Blacks were down a man. The Boks lost key players such as De Jager and Francois Louw to injuries over the course of the match, and their lineout and breakdown effort suffered as a result. But they should have put more pressure on the All Blacks during that period of advantage.
Sopoaga had a chance to level the scores in the 64th minute. There were boos from the partisan crowd as he lined up the kick, and then cheers when the attempt sailed wide.
When the All Blacks were handed another penalty 10 minutes later, captain Richie McCaw pointed to the touchline. The All Blacks set the lineout. It seemed as if they were preparing to maul.
But this was a ruse. Reserve hooker Codie Taylor threw the ball to the front, where McCaw was waiting. The All Blacks captain, in what is likely to be his last Test in South Africa, then crossed the line for the game-winning try.
The Boks were always going to struggle in the fourth quarter of this fixture. The travel fatigue after traversing the Indian Ocean twice in the space of a week was always going to be a factor.
What was disappointing was the Boks' decision-making in that fourth quarter, as well as their failure to punish the All Blacks when their opponents were reduced to 14 men. They let another great opportunity to beat the old enemy slip.
Springboks – Tries: Willie le Roux, Jesse Kriel. Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (2).
All Blacks – Tries: Ben Smith, Dane Coles, Richie McCaw. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (3). Penalties: Sopoaga (2).
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger (c), 7 Francois Louw, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lionel Mapoe.
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 James Broadhurst, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Victor Vito, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images