The best side in the world just got even better.

OPINION: Now there can be no doubt. Steve Hansen’s All Blacks have proven their mettle in the most testing of circumstances to pull off one of their finest victories in test match history.

These All Blacks are now unequivocally and undoubtedly the supreme team in world rugby, taking the best shots of a quality Springboks side at their fortress Ellis Park, overcoming two yellow cards and a number of anxious moments through an exhilarating test match, to emerge 38-27 victors.

Not only do the New Zealanders claim their second straight Rugby Championship title with their second straight clean sweep of this competition, but they lay claim to sole possession of the title of world’s best team at this mid-point of the World Cup cycle.

Make no mistake, this is a very, very good Springboks side. Maybe even a great one too. They are big and bruising, and fast and furious. They are streets ahead the second best team on the planet. But today in Johannesburg, they were not good enough to haul in an All Blacks side able to dig as deep as they’ve had to since the World Cup final a couple of years back.

It was a special contest that somehow not only lived up to the hype, but surpassed it. Test rugby doesn’t always measure up as an entertainment spectacle, but this one had a season’s worth of skill, excitement, drama and controversy packaged into 80 stunning minutes of sport at its very best.

It’s impossible to measure these things, but this was finally a test match to rival the All Blacks’ epic 2000 victory over the Aussies at the Sydney Olympic stadium for quality and entertainment.

It must now sit alongside that fabulous 39-35 triumph in the pantheon of great All Black victories, for this was an achievement every bit as notable.

The All Blacks had to fight through two yellow cards – one a little harsh, the second a fair call – and ominous deficits in both halves. But every time they looked like they were teetering on the ropes they found the response they needed to secure their seventh win in their last eight outings against the Boks.

There were heroes everywhere in black. Liam Messam, with two huge tries, had his finest test as an All Black, just hours after Jerome Kaino announced he was coming home to challenge for that No 6 jersey. Timely, to say the least.

Kieran Read – the best player in the game – produced another fabulous display, flicking offloads for tries, thundering into tackles and charging on to passes like the fabulous athlete he is. And what about the skipper? Back so soon from that medial knee ligament injury, Richie McCaw was the inspiration, and the perspiration his side needed.

Locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick tore into a furious battle, Andrew Hore had a mighty first 40 banging heads against his old mate Bismarck du Plessis and the New Zealand forwards were supreme as they muscled up for 20 draining minutes while a man down.

The backs did not miss the party either. The Smiths all played well, Ben getting things rolling with a fine early try and chasing the high kicks splendidly, Aaron at his razor-sharp best and the peerless Conrad enjoying a game that flowed from end to end throughout.

Israel Dagg was excellent at the back and Julian Savea again demonstrated what a destructive runner he is. He is also developing a brilliant combination with Read out wide on the left, as they set each other up for a try apiece.

Off the bench there were two very special performances that must be noted. Beauden Barrett came in early in the second spell, and had yet another big time performance. He scored a huge try with sheer individual brilliance to regain a lead the All Blacks would never lose, but his chase down of Willie le Roux off his intercept in the 76th minutes was magnificent. Who knows what may have eventuated, but it was the final nail in the Boks’ coffin as a sure score was denied by a foot dragged into touch.

What was so impressive about this All Blacks victory was that it was achieved amid such adversity. Messam was binned early in the second half for a ruck infringement, but the New Zealanders rallied well to minimise damage.

Likewise when Ben Franks was marched in the 62nd minute for a swinging arm Hansen was happy to label “dumb”, the outnumbered All Blacks responded splendidly. They actually won that 10 minutes 7-0 when Read was put over by Savea, following Luatua’s excellent lineolut steal.

The All Blacks faced adversity too. In the first half Bryan Habana struck twice in two minutes for a 15-7 lead, and Ellis Park, which had planes buzzing overhead in the buildup, threatened to erupt. Near the mid-point of the second spell Jean de Villier’s try put the Boks 27-24 in front, and they looked at that stage an unstoppable force.

There was controversy too – plenty of it. The team sheet had Keven Mealamu’s name on it as replacement hooker, when it should have been Dane Coles in shades of the Val Adams Olympic fiasco. But referee Nigel Owens handled it splendidly, as he did almost everything in a challenging, electric, high-paced contest.

Owens’ part in keeping a match that teetered on the edge on the right side of control cannot be under-estimated. His handling was a textbook display of how you should referee a test.

This was just the fourth victory in history by the All Blacks on Ellis Park. That it was achieved in such style, under such duress, accompanied by such high stakes, simply made it even more special.

The best side in the world just got even better.

www.stuff.co.nz

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About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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