Shock re­sult gives ev­ery­one hope for the World Cup

South Africa showed that even the mighty All Blacks are vul­ner­a­ble when they face a huge phys­i­cal force

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Gallagher Premiership - SIR IAN McGEECHAN

Not many peo­ple saw that re­sult in Welling­ton com­ing yes­ter­day. I know I did not. The All Blacks had won 15 con­sec­u­tive Rugby Cham­pi­onship fix­tures head­ing into that clash with the Spring­boks, go­ing two years un­de­feated in the com­pe­ti­tion.

At home, their record is even more im­pres­sive. New Zealand have been more or less un­beat­able on their own soil for a decade now. If you ex­clude the dra­matic 24-21 de­feat by the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions last sum­mer, the All Blacks had not lost any Tests in New Zealand since be­ing beaten 32-29 by South Africa in Hamil­ton in 2009.

South Africa’s 36-34 win was a timely re­minder, then – al­most ex­actly a year out from the next World Cup – that ev­ery­one is beat­able.

New Zealand are still far and away the best team in the world. One de­feat does not change that. Es­pe­cially when the All Blacks scored six tries to South Africa’s five (a fur­ther re­minder, in­ci­den­tally, of the gen­eral di­rec­tion in which rugby is headed).

On an­other day – had Beau­den Bar­rett been more ac­cu­rate from the tee, had they not thrown those two in­ter­cep­tions, had they gone for a drop goal rather than a try at the end – they might well have won again.

But what South Africa’s win does prove is that when you match them phys­i­cally, as the Boks did mag­nif­i­cently, putting in a huge de­fen­sive shift, the All Blacks are not im­mune to pres­sure. And for all their in­cred­i­ble try-scor­ing po­ten­tial, they are per­haps not hugely ex­pe­ri­enced at win­ning in tight fin­ishes.

The Lions showed last sum­mer how you have to play New Zealand. War­ren Gat­land’s team were caught out in the first Test so they had to change tac­ti­cally. They wanted to be more di­rect and play with a big man, such as Ben Te’o, in mid­field but they were beaten at the break­down and strug­gled to cross the gain line.

They re­alised they had to play with clever play­ers, not just phys­i­cal ones, and the 9-10-12 com­bi­na­tion of Conor Mur­ray, Jonathan Sex­ton and Owen Far­rell in mid­field in the sec­ond and third Tests meant Sean O’Brien and Jonathan Davies, in par­tic­u­lar, could get across the gain-line and put the Lions on the front foot.

You sim­ply have to com­pete with New Zealand at the break­down. It is eas­ier said than done. They are in­cred­i­bly quick to re­or­gan­ise and re­set for the next phase – maybe as much as three sec­onds quicker than any other team at get­ting into the next at­tack­ing shape. And once on the front foot, they stay there. The All Blacks play at a pace oth­ers strug­gle to match. It is not er­ror-free. But that does not mat­ter. They know if they keep the pace up, 99 per cent of the time their op­po­si­tion will not sur­vive be­yond an hour. South Africa did, be­cause they re­mained com­pet­i­tive in the con­tact area through­out the game and had two half-backs who hounded their op­po­si­tion. But they can be beaten. South Africa’s per­for­mance yes­ter­day re­ally re­minded me of the Lions. They com­peted at the break­down. They forced New Zealand into er­rors with the strength of their de­fence.

Their hits on first and sec­ond con­tact were out­stand­ing. Some of their de­fen­sive sets on their own five-me­tre line – where New Zealand would ex­pect to score – re­sulted in turnovers. The big mo­men­tum shifts went their way; com­ing back to lead at half-time, get­ting the first score in af­ter the break.

The pres­sure told. New Zealand tried to force things, for ex­am­ple when Jordi Bar­rett tried a quick line-out, which Wil­lie Le Roux in­ter­cepted for a score.

The re­sult raises very in­ter­est­ing ques­tions with 12 months re­main­ing un­til Ja­pan 2019. This could be a real step change for Rassie Eras­mus’s team, chang­ing them as a group. They can re­ally build from here.

For New Zealand, there are ques­tion marks. Bar­rett is one of the most nat­u­rally gifted 10s rugby has ever seen. But his goal-kick­ing is not of the cal­i­bre of Grant Fox, Andrew Mehrtens or Dan Carter. Big games can be de­cided by those kicks and Bar­rett’s abil­ity from the tee has to be a ques­tion mark for Steve Hansen.

As is New Zealand’s tac­ti­cal kick­ing, an area of the game which in­creases in im­por­tance in the fi­nal mo­ments of tight matches.

New Zealand, for all their bril­liance, are not all that used to win­ning th­ese types of games. Most of the time, they go through the gears and have the match sewn up well be­fore the end.

Their col­lec­tive de­ci­sion not to en­gi­neer a dropped-goal op­por­tu­nity yes­ter­day re­minded me of the 2007 World Cup de­feat by France.

Hansen will know if you are go­ing to win th­ese tight matches, you have to be able to con­trol the key mo­ments, par­tic­u­larly in the last 20 min­utes with one score be­tween the teams. That is when your tac­ti­cal kick­ing and your goal-kick­ing re­ally mat­ter.

That is what he will be drilling into his play­ers.

New Zealand have some ab­so­lutely huge games com­ing up – in Pre­to­ria in three weeks and at Twick­en­ham and in Dublin later this au­tumn. It is go­ing to be fas­ci­nat­ing to see how they re­spond to this.

Boks of tricks: Wil­lie le Roux scores a try for South Africa

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