Born-again Boks push All Blacks to the very edge
SOUTH Africa lost a Test match but won back their self-respect in a barnstorming game that showcased the Rugby Championship at its best.
For the first time in too long the Boks breathed fire and fury and, in Malcolm Marx and Eben Etzebeth, they have two totem pole players to gather around going forward.
As for New Zealand, we can only again admire their fitness, intensity and knack of producing something special when necessary. And also, it should be added, for their ability to avoid detection when up to no good at ruck time and the so-called clear out.
New Zealand shaded the possession and territory in the first half but this was a different Springboks side altogether from the team that shipped 57 points against the All Blacks at Albany last month.
Ferocious in defence, they chased the Kiwis down remorselessly while there was much more snap and physicality when the Boks did attack.
Elton Jantjies and Beauden Barrett swapped early penalties before New Zealand tried to turn the screw as they upped the tempo and looked to clear out the rucks as quickly as possible. Sometimes too quickly.
Scott Barrett was extremely lucky to stay on the pitch as he launched himself into one ruck, shoulder first, arms by his side right in front of Jerome Garces. Remarkably the French referee saw nothing wrong with the highly illegal challenge.
Officialdom was also on New Zealand’s side just after the half hour when Beauden Barrett charged down a Jantjies clearance kick and the two fly-halves raced for the line after Barrett hacked on. Jan Serfontein came across to challenge for the touchdown along with Barrett and both missed, as Barrett then held Serfontein back by the arm preventing him challenging again.
Meanwhile Ryan Crotty dived in and although touching the ball in the air – possibly knocking it on – missed it with his hands and arms when it made contact with the turf, though you could argue there was pressure from the chest. Garces was clearly unconvinced but after a lengthy investigation by English TMO Rowan Kitt a try, to the surprise of most, was awarded.
As half-time approached the Boks finally secured some good field position and started to enjoy themselves as they went through the phases. So much so that when the hooter for 40 minutes went they carried on attacking furiously until they turned the ball over.
New Zealand picked up on the vibe and then attacked savagely themselves before being penalised on the Boks line.
Surely it was time to get down the tunnel but no, Etzebeth went for touch, as the law now allows, as South Africa continued to attack manically. And then he did the same when New Zeeland were again penalised. Only after nine minutes and 56 seconds of added time was play brought to a close when New Zealand earned a turn over and finally put the ball out of play.
There was no let up after the break with South Africa taking the lead when Ross Cronje nipped in by the post only for Rieko Ioane to sprint 80 yards to score a startling interception try when the Boks attacked.
Next, replacement JeanLuc du Preez scored after yet more fine work from Marx before Damian McKenzie scored the try of the game with a scorching 50 yard run after South Africa had unwisely kicked to the AB’s back three.
South Africa looked buried when Damian de Allende was harshly sent off for a late tackle on Lima Sopoaga, who rather milked the situation, before stepping up to land the penalty. Eight points behind, the Boks continued to breathe defiance and MOM Marx scored a well deserved try right at the death.
Something to cheer: Boks celebrate Ross Cronje’s try