Adversity is a test of character and there was no doubt of ours. It was a massive challenge coming here and the group turned up massively. “We were a lot better at the breakdown tonight. The set piece was good. There were lots of good bits to our game. –All Blacks captain, Sam Cane

By Roger Childs

Crowd silenced at Ellis Park

Not even the most confident of All Black fans was picking a victory for the visitors at South Africa’s Eden Park. The decisive 35 – 23 victory left the 60,000+ Ellis Park spectators stunned, especially after the Springbok were leading 23-21 in the 67th minute with the All Blacks down to 14 players. But the New Zealanders dug deep under the leadership of Ardie Savea and scored two converted tries in the last 8 minutes to seal the victory.

The Kiwi fans knew that the team which had earlier crushed Ireland in the first test 42-19 of the three match series had the players to beat anyone, even World champions South Africa in Johannesburg.

Promising start

For the first time in 2022, the All Black went on to the attack early and an excellent break by Savea on the left flank, where he beat two players and was brought down only a few metres short of the line, could have led to a try. However, it was only in the 24th minute that Richie Mo’unga put the visitors ahead 3-0. He kicked very well throughout the game both for touch and through the posts and scored a crucial 15 points.

Sam Cane scored the first try of the game, set up by Will Jordan to go over in the right hand corner. It was a great confidence booster for the captain who has been under great pressure in the media. Cane had his usual high tackle count and he was more demonstrative in his captaincy than last week.

More running rugby

This was a much more open game compared to the first test and both teams has a number of significant backline breaks with Caleb Clarke and Reiko Ioane featuring for the All Blacks and Lukhanyo An and Willie Le Roux for the Springboks. Playing Mo’unga at first five generally worked well and he combined effectively with Crusaders team mate David Havilli. There was some excellent quick passing from Mo’unga and the decision making was generally sound. His one significant error was in the last quarter when indecision saw him wrapped up by the opposition and robbed of the ball by Malcolm Marx. Quick ball and a very long final pass saw Springbok winger Makazole Mapimpi score in the left hand corner.

Aaron Smith played better than last week and his quick passing gave the backs more chances. Another improver was Jordie Barrett who this week was reliable under the high ball.  The Springboks probably used this tactic too often and with the All Blacks down to 14 men half back Jaden Hendrikse should have been passing the ball out more rather than taking the ‘high kick and hope’ approach.

All Blacks have momentum

A team which has been under huge pressure from the fans and the media, seemed determined to win against the odds. They started well and appeared highly motivated. Their discipline was generally good and there were fewer mistakes than in previous tests. They were quicker to the loose ball and Savea played his usual busy, bustling game. He showed his class in the 73rd minute when after being tackled close to line freed his arms to put Havilli in for the crucial third try.

The decision to play two relatively inexperienced props – Tyrel Lomax And Ethan de Groot -worked well and South Africa significantly changed its front row before the end of the first half! Hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho threw impeccably into the lineout ensuring quality ball to the backs and he always made ground with ball in hand.

Scott Barrett and Sam Whitelock provided the grunt in the tight and Barrett scored the final try which sealed the victory.

Looking ahead

Will this decisive win see Ian Foster keep his job as head coach? Yes in the meantime, but he cannot afford to have any slip-ups in the upcoming matches against Argentina and Australia. The All Blacks play the Pumas in New Zealand next weekend. The latter will be confident after crushing the Wallabies 48-17 on Saturday