RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP RESULT: Ruthless All Blacks outplay Boks as they put one hand on Rugby Championship trophy
New Zealand 35 (20) South Africa 20 (3)
It’s hard to win Tests in New Zealand at the best of times. It’s impossible if you barely touch the ball in the first quarter and give up a 17-0 lead to the home team.
The Springboks were beaten in the opening 20 minutes of this match, and for the next hour they were forced to play catch-up rugby. They had good moments, but the All Blacks made a statement with their ferocity and accuracy early on. The wait for a first Bok win in Auckland since 1937 will be extended for another year at least.
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In many ways the All Blacks performance was right out of the current Boks’ playbook. They dominated collisions, employed a brilliantly accurate kicking game and executed to perfection, edged the lineout battle and mauled superbly.
They kicked 27 times from hand to the 14 of the Boks. They also scored four tries to three. Let no one say kicking won’t win Test matches, but it has to be accurate and calculated. For the most part, the All Blacks were both.
The Boks simply had no answers early on, and found themselves in such a deep hole that they could barely see any light. They were forced into errors and gave away four consecutive penalties in this period, which also stunted any chance of easing the pressure.
Before the Boks’ first lineout in the 18th minute, the All Blacks had 88% possession and almost the same amount of territory. It was one-way traffic.
It’s a timely wake-up call after the highs of beating the Wallabies 43-12 last week, but most of the players not involved at Loftus looked rusty and out of sorts. Especially against the ferocity of the early onslaught from the All Blacks.
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Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Jasper Wiese, Damian Willemse (who did play last week), Franco Mostert and Damian de Allende were well off the pace as they adjusted to the highest intensity the sport has to offer.
Only scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, and perhaps Cheslin Kolbe, of the players who didn’t play against Australia last week, were up to speed initially.
De Klerk was a constant, buzzing presence, until a leg injury forced him off the field midway through the second half. At that point the Boks had narrowed the deficit to eight points, which was as close as they came to making it a contest.
“The start wasn’t ideal for us… We struggled to get into the game because of poor discipline,” coach Jacques Nienaber said. “We gave away four penalties and a quality side like New Zealand, they capitalised on that.”
All Black flank Shannon Frizell was excellent, particularly in the first half, as he broke tackles almost at will and created unstoppable momentum for his team.
Wing Will Jordan was another to catch the eye with his ghosting runs and ability to drift into little pockets of space as if he were mist on a breeze.
He created the opening try after only four minutes for scrumhalf Aaron Smith and was continually dangerous every time he touched the ball in space. He scored himself to kill off the Boks’ comeback in the 70th minute when he ran on to a Beauden Barrett kick/pass under advantage.
Pulling the strings
But pulling the strings was the marvellous Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf, who kicked, passed and ran with intelligence and accuracy. It provided the icing to a superb effort from the New Zealand pack.
Mo’unga was rewarded with a late try when he ran a perfect line off the back of a scrum close to the Boks’ line, and he also kicked six from seven off the tee. It added up to 20 points for the flyhalf and ended any discussion about the identity of the All Blacks’ first-choice pivot.
The All Blacks have sounded notice that they will be a force at Rugby World Cup 2023, while the Boks did enough in the middle part of the game to show why they will always be a factor at the big show.
It was just so disappointing that they didn’t come out of the blocks at anything more than a jog, while the All Blacks were in top gear within seconds.
At Ellis Park in 2022, the Boks fell 15-0 behind the All Blacks and couldn’t recover, and it was almost a carbon copy at the Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.
Needs to detonate
It’s all well and good having a powerful bench, but the bomb squad needs to be able to detonate from a strong foundation. Most of the bench entered the fray with the Boks still 17 points behind.
Frizell scored the All Blacks’ second try, underlining his rampaging form as he smashed Kolbe, De Klerk and Willie le Roux out the road on his way to scoring, after taking a good pass from hooker Codie Taylor.
At that stage the visitors were in disarray, but unlike previous incarnations of the Boks, they didn’t fall apart and somehow hung in. A 36th minute penalty from De Klerk gave the Boks their first points of the game, but De Allende spilled the restart and the Boks conceded another penalty. Mo’unga duly slotted it to re-establish the 17-point margin.
The Boks ended the half on the All Blacks line but failed to convert, but there was a definite momentum shift and a small flicker of hope.
Kolbe kept that flicker alive with a try-saving tackle on Jordan close to the line after the New Zealand wing glided through the smallest of gaps again.
With the bomb squad almost fully deployed, hooker Malcolm Marx scored from the back of a rolling maul to close the gap. Minutes later, Kolbe thought he’d scored when he and Beauden Barrett went up for a kick on the All Blacks goal-line.
Barrett spilled the ball but television match official Ben Whitehouse deemed that Kolbe had not grounded it. It was a marginal decision and one of the calls that tend to go against teams in New Zealand.
Jordan and Mo’unga’s tries killed the contest, but Kwagga Smith added a late score to add some respectability on an otherwise chastening day. DM
New Zealand – Tries: Aaron Smith, Shannon Frizell, Will Jordan, Richie Mo’unga. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (3). Penalties: Mo’unga (3).
South Africa – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Cheslin Kolbe, Kwagga Smith. Conversion: Kolbe. Penalty: Faf de Klerk.