The match was disappointing on a number of levels – the A.B.s just aren’t hitting their straps as they used to. —Christchurch based rugby guru, Richard Belton
By Roger Childs
A narrow win in Buenos Aries last week and draw against the Springboks last night at the Cake Tin have the All Blacks still searching for their brilliant best. Understandably in the lead-up to the World Cup in September, the coaches are experimenting with players in different combinations, knowing that few will remember rusty performances in July if the big prize is carried off in Japan later.
However, after struggling against the Pumas with plenty of dropped passes and a seeming inability to deal with the rushed defence, the fumbles and lack of attacking flair continued in the match against South Africa. The All Blacks looked to have it won with two minutes to go but the fat lady was still clearing her throat. Attacking down the right flank the shortest man on the field, replacement half back Herschel Jantjies, out-jumped Aaron Smith to score a brilliant try. The ever reliable goal kicker Handre Pollard converted to draw the game 16-16.
A game of two halves
You could see the backline starting to function with more ease and threat in the second half, though that could be down to Anton Lienert-Brown being on the park. –Japan-based rugby authority, Neil Smith
The Springboks had much the better of the first half and were deservedly ahead 6-0 with half time approaching. Then there was rare bit of All Black magic. Attacking down the right flank Sonny Bill Williams threw a long pass to Beauden Barrett close to the touch line and he drew the opposition to give Jack Goodhue a clear run-in for the try.
The second half saw the home team gain the upper hand, but the knock-out blow never came. Although the backline was running with more freedom and Dane Coles provided some spark on the left flank, the All Blacks couldn’t score a second try to put the game out of reach of the visitors.
Plenty to work on
This was a game where both sides defended well and there were few breaks. The All Blacks had the better of the lineouts and the usually reliable Springbok hooker, Malcolm Marx, tossed his first two throw-ins to the All Black forwards. In the scrums the home team gained a penalty from crumpling the South African scrum early in the second half, but later, with replacement props on, it was the All Blacks turn to get shoved back, twice.
The home team loose forwards had a mixed day and Kieran Read had yet to show his best form. At present Ardie Savea, who didn’t play last night, is our best man in the back of the scrum.
Sonny Bill Williams played his first game months and defended well before being replaced mid way through the second half. The jury is still out as whether he is better in the centres than the younger and faster quartet – Jack Goodhue, Anton Leinert-Brown, Brayden Ennor and Ngani Laumape. Beauden Barrett went well at full back – there is a touch of Christian Cullen in him when he plays at the back. Meanwhile Richie Mo’unga, after an early charge down which he recovered, settled in to have a solid match at first five and kicked two vital penalties in the second half.
Coping with the “rush defence” remains a worry. Half back T.J. Prenara must stop stepping before passing to get the ball out faster and the backs might benefit from standing deeper and running two lines.
The Wallabies await
There are two Bledisloe Cup tests coming up and the All Blacks will need to be at their best to hold this trophy for yet another year. On the basis of the performances in the first two 2019 tests there should be no complacency.
Hopefully the coaches will pick the strongest combination for the first game in Perth on 10 August.