by Roger Childs
It was a clash worthy of the two best teams in the world. The big crowd on the Gold Coast had seen an entertaining curtain raiser with the Wallabies beating the Pumas 32-17 and enjoyed the thriller which followed.
Last week’s Springboks – All Blacks clash had been a dour affair with far too much kicking and many uncharacteristic errors on both sides. It was the New Zealanders worst performance of the year but they scraped home after a late Jordie Barrett penalty. This time the South Africans won 32-29 with a penalty to Elton Jantjies after 80 minutes had ticked over.
A game with everything
This was a thriller and a very even encounter — either side could have won the game in the last few minutes, and a draw would have been a fair result.
The All Blacks scored all their three tries in the first half. The first by right wing Sevu Reece came after a perfect crosskick by Beauden Barrett, and the latter also featured in the second. After making a superb break in mid field he passed to Rieko Ioane who flicked on to Ardie Savea for the captain to score near the posts. Then close to half time a Springbok lineout throw near their own line was intercepted by Scott Barrett and the ball was hooked back to half back Brad Weber who went over in the corner.
Springboks scored a try early in the first half after a dropped pass by Codie Taylor. Then they nearly had a second after a great 30 metre, bullocking run by hooker Bongi Mbomambi, but unfortunately he lost the ball on the line by the left-hand upright.
There were some questionable decisions by British referee Matthew Carley. Late in the second spell Damian de Allende deliberately knocked the ball down as the All Blacks were breaking out from their own 22, an offence which resulted in a yellow card for Sbu Nkosi last week. This time the All Blacks just received a penalty. Going into the last minute in the lead, the New Zealanders had possession and from a ruck near halfway were penalized for a player leaving his feet – an offence I never spotted.
Regardless, both teams contributed to a high quality match which kept the crowd on the edge of the seats to the very end.
South Africa mixes it up
After playing boring rugby last week based on incessant high “up-and-unders”, rush defence and bustling the All Blacks into errors, the Springboks made good use of their possession and gave their backs the chance to show their skills with slick passing and hard running. There was no deliberate slowing of the pace of the game this time.
In the forwards the Springboks probably had the edge with strong carries mid field and a very reliable lineout. The tackling was generally very impressive with flanker Wayne Vermeullen standing out.
Faf de Klerk at half back passed swiftly and was dangerous on attack, and while his high kicking this week was less common compared to last week it was generally well placed.
Much improved performance by the All Blacks
The big plus was fewer mistakes than last week and more control. There was plenty of running rugby based on clean ball from the lineout. Brad Weber set the backline alight with quick passing which allowed the ball to get to the three quarters on many occasions. Beauden Barrett directed the game well from first five and although there were some miss-kicks his cross kicks and line kicks were generally very effective. He made a couple of breaks in mid field – one of which led to the brilliant try by Savea.
Sevu Reece justified his selection with an excellent try, a couple of very good takes of the high ball, but the pick of the backs like last week was Jordie Barrett. He kicked the key penalties in the second half, was generally reliable under the high balls he could get to and made the most outstanding break of the game late in the second half. He ran 60 metres through the middle of the South African defence before throwing a superb 30m pass to Anton-Lienert Brown. All the backs tackled solidly and this was an area where they shaded the Springboks.
In the forwards. captain Ardie Savea led by example with a number of turnovers, aggressive running in mid-field and battling in the tight. Akira Ioane had another poor game and Ethan Blackadder was much better when he came on. Brodie Retallick was strong in taking the ball up in mid-field and provided much clean ball for the half backs from the middle of the lineout.
An exciting finish
In the last 10 minutes the lead changed four times as result of accurate penalty kicks and one dropped goal, but this week it was South Africa which had the final say with an easy penalty in front of the posts.
With the win South Africa regained their number one ranking in the world, however the Saturday test showed that there is little to pick between themselves and the All Blacks at number two.
This final test in the 2021 Rugby Championship was another classic match-up between the two sides and while the Springboks went back to the top of the world rankings, the All Blacks won the southern hemisphere’s top trophy.