The Springboks showed desire and hunger throughout a classic Ellis Park Test, writes MARK KEOHANE.
The All Blacks wanted to win. The Springboks simply had to win.
That it came down to a TMO referral, influenced by the crowd, should not detract from the result.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, on reflection, was gracious and honest. It could have gone either way on the balance of the play but he felt the more deserving team got the result. He felt that on the day the Springboks were a score better.
Among us South Africans, there is no Test match that evokes the passions quite like when fronting the All Blacks.
I have Maori New Zealand blood in me (thanks to my mom) and am a proud South African, having been born and schooled in Cape Town, so I have a close affection for both teams.
I have an understanding of the Springbok culture. I was the only ‘Kiwi’ in my junior school fluent in Afrikaans. I was a detective warrant officer in the SA Police Force at 19, having done my national service in the police. I love the Afrikaans culture. I know it and understand it, having married into an Afrikaans family.
I also have a huge respect for my New Zealand heritage and the tribal influence of Maori in my genealogy. I guess that's why I get so annoyed at South Africans not understanding the meaning of the haka as a challenge. It is theatre. It can’t possibly be any form of intimidation.
And to enjoy watching and hearing it at a ground that is absolutely silent makes for a wonderful experience. The drowning out of it with repetitive Ole Ole’s is the right of the individual. I just think those who do it deny themselves a great moment of entertainment.,
That off my chest, a quick reflection on an epic Test match. One half belonged to the Boks and the second to New Zealand. The difference was one penalty kick and the desire of the Boks to never stop believing.
If not on Saturday after five successive failures against New Zealand, then when?
It had to be a Bok victory on Saturday, simply for us all to keep the faith that anything is possible in a one-off and that when it comes to the World Cup, the difference between winning the Cup is a margin as fine as one reckless tackle.
The match was a classic but the leadership in both camps, led by the respective coaches and captains, has restored the rivalry. It now extends beyond the results, which have favoured New Zealand 36 to 15. Statistically that figure can’t be viewed as a rivalry but at least the New Zealanders still know they’ll always be in a contest when playing South Africa.
New Zealand, having won the Rugby Championship for a third successive season and a 13th southern hemisphere title in 19 years, would have lacked the hunger that goes with a Championship decider. This was evident in the first half when they didn’t have the mongrel of the Springboks, whose season desperately needed an All Blacks scalp if the report card of Heyneke Meyer was to reflect the progress of the past three years.
New Zealand, win or lose, could get on with their year and their World Cup preparations. They already had the two big Cups in their cabinet (the Bledisloe Cup and the Rugby Championship).
The Boks only silverware left to win was that of a silver fern on one Saturday in the past three years.
Psychologically, the Boks simply had to win today to stay in touch with the All Blacks, and they showed the desire and hunger to hang in there for 80 minutes, when on 70 minutes they looked spent.
A year ago, the All Blacks upped the pace in the last 10 minutes to secure a win and it looked like a repeat when Dane Coles scored to turn a 24-13 deficit into a 25-24 lead.
This time the Boks, their legs gone but their minds strong, kept on playing.
Jean de Villiers and Richie McCaw spoke with reverence afterwards, in relation to their own players and the opposition. McCaw said playing at Ellis Park against the Springboks in front of a capacity crowd is what young New Zealand boys dream of. He said he loved every minute, despite the result.
De Villiers thanked the All Blacks for their effort, applauded what they had achieved in winning a third successive Championship and beamed at being able to speak about a close win against the old enemy and not another one that seemed so close but was a score too much.
The humility and respect of both teams’ is a reminder of why this is still a rivalry. The Springboks won on Saturday. Enjoy and celebrate.
But celebrate the win and not what will happen in year or what should have happened in this year.
The Boks won for the first time in six Tests against the All Blacks. When we start winning one in two starts again, then the rivalry will be rampant. For now it’s a contest and in this particular contest the best team on Saturday won.
But the best team in the world had already won the Rugby Championship a week ago.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images