Despite defeat, the Boks rediscovered their soul in Townsville and, with captain Siya Kolisi front and centre, proved that their champion qualities remain firmly intact, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
As written earlier this week, the reaction from the Springbok camp following humbling back-to-back loss to the Wallabies, and ahead of the blockbuster clash with the All Blacks, had been particularly revealing.
The message from the Springboks were as clear as day: the team had strayed too far from their blueprint against Australia last weekend, at times forcing the play before having earned the right to go wide.
As a result, the Boks went soul-searching, held some honest conversations, and decided that they would go back to play the “South African way”.
And so it proved on Saturday.
There were no frills or fuss, this was about brutal, belligerent Springbok rugby. The pack was a weapon. The kicking boot an ally. It was back to basics!
Yes, it wasn’t enough in the end, with the All Blacks snatching defeat at the death as they so often do but, in all but on the scoreboard, this was a win for the Springboks.
This was about realising that the “South African way” is the correct way, and there is immense clarity and confidence that can be taken from that.
Ultimately, however, you can very rarely win a Test match when you concede 16 penalties – as the Springboks did on Saturday – one of which resulted in a yellow card, and that was the big difference in a game of such small margins.
The breakdown penalty that led to the match-winning Jordie Barrett kick broke South African hearts, but it was ill-discipline that haunted the Boks throughout the game.
Another 23 missed tackles, which followed on from the 40 that were missed in total across two Test against the Wallabies, was another area of frustration.
But take nothing away from the fact that Springboks threw the All Blacks off their game, and looked more than capable of pulling off a victory that many would have thought almost impossible on the basis of what was seen against the Wallabies.
This was an occasion for the Boks’ big players to step up, and Kolisi once again proved why he is such a sensational leader.
The Bok captain was simply everywhere, completing six carries, making 20 metres, executing the joint-most nine tackles (missing none) and winning a turnover.
Ultimately, though, this was a result that got away from the Boks when they lost control of play late in the game.
For the majority of the match the Springboks had superbly dictated the tempo of the Test, slowing down the match decidedly, dragging the All Blacks to the gutter while preventing them from taking the game to the dance floor.
Yet, for all the good that the Springboks did, there were occasions where the decision-making, direction and execution was lacking when opportunities were presented, and it’s clear that flyhalf Handre Pollard is currently lacking his usual swagger and authority.
The Boks cannot always grind out the results, and when they have successfully imposed themselves on the opposition – as they did in Townsville – they need to find the bravery to back their abilities to exploit attacking space without reverting to the tendency of kicking first.
Far too often the Springboks failed to make the most of playing under advantage, while also reverting to kicking contestables into the opposition 22, particularly when there was more than enough front- foot ball to build some phases.
This end result will hurt. But the Springboks rediscovered their soul on Saturday, and now there just has to be some much-needed progression in adding more attacking intent to what they offer with ball in hand once they’ve done all the hard yards.