Stand tall, you Boks
SA proved they can be disrupters of rugby’s world order
● This climax of this Rugby Championship match arrived like a dagger to the aorta for 50,000 highly expectant spectators.
The All Blacks snatched victory with two late converted tries but the Springboks can take heart from their last two performances against the game’s standard-bearers.
The All Blacks’ standing experienced some mild tremors when these teams last met and yesterday they were exposed to a full-blown seismic event until they summoned enough courage and energy to win this match.
For a team that had travelled just under 20,000km in the last fortnight it was a truly monumental comeback, leaving Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus to perhaps lament his decision to withdraw man of the match Malcolm Marx from battle when the team needed him most.
Despite the defeat the Springboks proved themselves as disrupters to rugby’s world order.
Erasmus can draw inspiration from the fact that they found different ways of combating the All Blacks in their last two encounters. Next year’s Rugby World Cup is far from cut and dried.
In the closer combat hooker Marx, as well as captain and flank Siya Kolisi, were outstanding. Kolisi is becoming an increasingly influential ball carrier for the Boks and he creates chaos in the opposing defence.
Fullback Willie le Roux stood tall on the occasion of his 50th Test, while Faf de Klerk pulled all the right strings behind the pack.
It wasn’t the much anticipated free-flowing spectacle, with both teams applying a much more pragmatic approach than the lung-busting thriller that played itself out in Wellington last month.
Space was at a premium with both sets of defences vacating their lines with alacrity which made for lateral ball carrying. Sonny Bill Williams posed as much of an attacking threat as the assistant referees, with the All Blacks starved of the ball for the bulk of the first half.
The Boks showed greater urgency at the ruck, while deftly weighted kicks allowed the home team to get behind the All Blacks. It was from there that they applied the squeeze to hold a distinct territorial advantage in the opening half.
De Klerk, pilloried for his performance against the Wallabies in Brisbane last month, was a bundle of energy as the All Blacks were firmly pegged onto the back foot. Damian de Allende and even Kolisi were also unlikely appliers of the boot to get the All Blacks to do a 180.
The Boks held 72% of the possession in the first half and they would have been disappointed to go into the break with the scores level.
They had made the bulk of the running and as much as their use of the boot contained All Blacks threats, it also limited their own attacking potential.
They also made their presence felt in the rucks against the team that had conceded the most turnovers in the competition. The Boks, by contrast, had pilfered most from the opposition in the competition and they somehow did that without enlisting the help of a recognised fetcher. It helps to have the colossal presence of a hooker like Marx who stands his ground at the ruck. His adhesive qualities once he attaches himself to the ball in defensive rucks is pure gold.
Lamentably, though, he didn’t see it through to the end, and neither did his teammates.