All Blacks survive Springboks scare

This was a statement of character; a triumph of wills.

Rugby’s greatest rivalry sure lived up to the hype.

The All Blacks were pushed to the brink in Wellington tonight. That they refused to surrender and survived such a contrasting test of their abilities from the Springboks shows they are, indeed, developing a number of ways to get the job done.

Tension and nerves haven’t been this frayed for some time. As they withstood a late onslaught from the Boks, which included halting their vaunted rolling maul in the dying stages, the relief was palpable.

Clearly wounded after being robbed in Perth by the officials last week, the Springboks reminded everyone of their brutally simple characteristics. Expansive rugby isn’t the only way to clinch victory.

The warning signs were there. A Springboks team largely written off – even by their own passionately patriotic rugby public – would always be a dangerous beast. They were that and much more, coming within an inch of their first win in five years on New Zealand soil.

Still, the All Blacks came through and by doing so placed one hand on the Rugby Championship trophy.

Springboks No 8 Duane Vermeulen took it upon himself to be the enforcer and a constant menace. In many ways he summed up his side’s unrelenting efforts. Whether it was scuffing with Brodie Retallick, or flying out of the line to make numerous crunching hits, Vermeulen made his immense presence felt throughout this torrid test.

The Boks’ loose-forwards hunted as a pack. Legally or not, Vermeulen, Marcell Coetzee and Francois Louw found success slowing the All Blacks’ ruck ball and creating turnover chances. That allowed the visitor’s defence time to re-set and, by and large, their line was difficult to crack.

For all their territorial dominance, the All Blacks battled to convert.

The All Blacks couldn’t move the big beefy South Africans from the breakdown fast enough to generate their golden quick delivery and, thus, their high tempo game was nullified for long periods. Too often Steve Hansen’s men lacked immediate support when their team-mate hit the deck.

Resolute defence from the Boks forced Aaron Cruden, Ma’a Nonu and Aaron Smith to favour short kicking options with limited success. With crafty veteran Victor Matfield marshalling their lineout, the Boks were often able to escape danger, though Retallick showed his prowess with two steals.

For much of the match the Boks were pinned in their half yet their collective fortitude held firm. They ventured into the All Blacks’ 22 only once in the first-half but crucially made them pay.

Rookie first five-eighth Handre Pollard, who would later nail a long-range dropped goal, took the ball to the line with confidence and dished on the inside to wing Cornal Hendricks, who exposed Steven Luatua’s slow cover to score the only try of the half.

While the backline as a whole struggled to gel, Julian Savea was again superb in all aspects. He swallowed high kicks, went looking for work at every opportunity and made ground with every carry. Like many before him Hendricks will have nightmares out The Bus. Right now, there is not a better wing in world rugby.

Ben Smith wasn’t far behind, either. Ma’a Nonu didn’t emerge in the second-half after copping a blow to the left forearm – a loss which could have exposed a lack of depth at second-five – but Smith stepped into the breach.

Overall, Cruden didn’t have his finest test and was replaced by Beauden Barrett with 20 minutes to play, but his cross-field kick for Kieran Read was vital. Read showed great composure to stand on his feet and make his fourth offload for Richie McCaw’s third try in this tournament. It was just reward for another tireless effort from All Blacks captain.

Sam Cane had a strong impact from the bench after replacing Luatua, running with vigour and snaffling turnovers. Such influence was telling in the closing stages.

AT A GLANCE

All Blacks 14 (Richie McCaw tries, Aaron Cruden pen 2, Beauden Barrett pen) South Africa 10 (Cornal Hendricks try, Handre Pollard con, dropped goal) HT: 7-6 (SA)

– Stuff

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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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