Coaches Rassie Erasmus and Steve Hansen believe the Springbok-All Blacks rivalry is back to its best following two tight Rugby Championship matches. JON CARDINELLI reports from Pretoria.
The All Blacks scored a late try to beat the Boks 32-30 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. The visitors trailed 30-13 at one stage, but managed to move up a gear in the final quarter and deny the Boks a second-straight win against them.
A lot has been made about the rivalry over the past three weeks. Some suggested that it was dead in the buildup to the clash in Wellington. Then the Boks stunned the All Blacks 36-34 to give both sets of fans a reason to believe the match-up is well and truly alive.
Following another absorbing contest at Loftus, which the Boks could have won but for a few lapses, Erasmus, as well as Hansen, spoke about the quality of rugby on display and what it signifies in a broader context.
‘South Africans don’t like to hear about positives after a loss,’ Erasmus said with a laugh. ‘But the one point that I need to make is that the rivalry is well and truly back.
‘You’re not sure who will win on any given day. The Boks nearly won at Newlands last year. There were only a couple of points in it in Wellington. On this occasion [at Loftus] the All Blacks won by two points.
‘In terms of the Boks, that kind of performance gives me hope. We got a chance to see how certain players react in pressure situations and that will serve us in the long term.
‘I think it was one of best tactical performances in while. We spoke about how the All Blacks tend to bounce back after they suffer a rare loss, and how we would have to match them physically and tactically. For 72 minutes, I felt that we did that.’
Hansen agreed that the Boks have come a long way over the past 12 months and that the All Blacks were made to push hard for this result.
‘Sometimes you have to keep knocking on the door until someone opens it,’ the All Blacks coach said of his team’s comeback in the second stanza.
‘There may be some disappointed fans in town tonight. I don’t think they will be disappointed with the quality of rugby though. ‘
All Blacks skipper Kieran Read couldn’t stop smiling at the post-match press conference. While his side showed character to claw their way back, the No 8 was also impressed by the performance of the Boks.
‘They dictated for the majority of the game and we couldn’t get our hands on the ball,’ Read said. ‘They’re capable when they turn up. They’ve shown before that they’re a side that knows how to win in tight situations.
‘They have a great forward pack, but smart players too. Handré Pollard is really coming into his own as a first-five [flyhalf] and they have some attacking threats out wide that we worked hard to analyse. They’re a team that’s going really well.’
Hansen was pleased to note that the rivalry is back, but suggested the result will have no bearing on the 2019 World Cup. The two sides will clash in the opening game of Pool B next September.
‘Everyone gets excited for the World Cup, but the result of this game won’t matter a hoot [in that context].
‘It will matter in the sense that our younger players will have taken a lesson. When they put their head on the pillow tonight they will remember that they can’t stop believing.
Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP