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Ben Smith: How Rassie is keeping his cards close to his chest

OPINION: Rugbypass writer Ben Smith shares his view on the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship Round Two victory over the Springboks.

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Do the Boks know that New Zealand has been a nuclear-free zone since 1987? The ban has been in place since then across the country’s land, sea and airspace, and Mount Smart Stadium.

The hyped-up ‘Nuke’ squad were sent in to save the bumbling Boks from a first-half disaster after being carved up by Will Jordan and co in the first 20 minutes.

Whilst the greatest bench of all time did blunt the All Blacks’ attack and arrest the momentum, you can’t bring nukes into this country and leave them idle when the All Blacks are firing AI-powered missiles from the get-go.

Enter Shannon Frizell, who was sent like a rocket into the Boks pack with possibly his best performance in the black jersey that teammate Brodie Retallick likened to being Kaino-like.

The long history of All Black blindsides being the baddest players on the pitch; Kaino, Jerry Collins, was upheld by Frizell as he reached a new level. He had a line break with his first touch and tossed aside Albertus Smith with no regard with his second.

He stormed down the left sideline later in the first half, where he lined up Willie Le Roux and ploughed the helpless Bok fullback like a combine harvester turning grapes.

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Le Roux was turned into a fine drop, which was fitting since that’s all the Boks backfield could do in the opening stanza.

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They could not catch a cold at Mount Smart, which has happened to a few NRL wings overtime at the home of rugby league in New Zealand.

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The All Blacks wanted to attack the visitors in the air, with Beauden Barrett and the kickers sending a barrage of bombs into the night sky like a fifth tackle option. Even Jordie Barrett nailed a goal line restart 60 metres upfield which was fumbled by Damian de Allende.

It was clear the All Blacks thought Will Jordan had the aerial advantage over anyone, with the returning Crusader winning multiple contests in the air. He nearly had a try assist for Rieko Ioane off a set-piece special, climbing up to tap back an Aaron Smith box kick after one phase.

Jordan was genius on his return to Test rugby, slipping a Le Roux tackle on his first touch in space and returning to his feet to slash the Boks up the middle before linking with Aaron Smith inside for the opening try.

He burst through on the opposite side of the pitch later in the half before a difficult fling pass to the edge found Codie Taylor and set Frizell free to give the All Blacks a 17-0 lead.

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The Springboks finally got some possession and spent the later stages of the first half plugging away at the All Blacks line but ferocious resolve prevented the visitors from getting over the line.

A knock-on by Cheslin Kolbe was the closest they came to registering a try, along with Eben Etzebeth being held up over the line.

Jordan almost came up with the killer blow minutes into the second half, hitting an inside ball from Jordie Barrett and exploding through the line with the posts in his sight. A miraculous try-saver from Kolbe dislodged the ball from Jordan’s grasp.

That moment was the catalyst for a Springbok revival, as Nienaber hit the launch codes to send his bench into the game. A Jordan try would’ve stretched the lead to 27-3 and the game would have been gone.

It was the only move the Bok coach had left and it did work as the Boks defence immediately stepped up a notch and the maul finally got going after being disarmed in the first half comfortably.

This is probably the only concern out of the game for the All Blacks with how quickly the tide turned once the Springboks’ starting-quality veterans were inserted.

They pounded the All Blacks behind the gain line constantly, with the home side losing upward of 30 metres in attack at times. Ill discipline started to creep in and the Springboks set-piece was given a chance to get going.

Richie Mo’unga was the saviour for the faltering All Blacks during this period, playing territory with his kicking game and nailing his shots at goal to keep an arm’s distance between the two sides.

But this is all Nienaber and Erasmus really wanted to see. The bench wasn’t a nuke squad meant to change the game’s fortunes but a Trojan horse. A brief look into what the true Springboks can really look like against the All Blacks.

And whilst they came on at a time when the All Blacks starters were being substituted out, they dominated the game. The All Blacks backline suddenly didn’t look like breaking them open on every carry.

The Springboks did not compete on a single lineout, giving the All Blacks the free throw at the front or an uncontested jump without a care in the world. They didn’t flush through with gusto and harassed the scrumhalf often.

By doing so they invited the All Blacks to throw their best launch plays at them, getting a look at what they might play if they meet again.

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The only patterns they ran from their own set-piece opportunities were typical of Bok play, forwards around the corner until they reach the sideline. Nothing out of character but also only surface-level stuff from their playbook.

There were brief dalliances with width, a nice exit play through Lukhanyo Am’s boot after spinning the ball wide, and Kolbe got a few runs out wide. The maul powered a Bok resurgence in the second half.

They got stuck in a hole down 17-0 through their own errors but the cards are still very close to Erasmus’ chest.

Not that they deliberately tanked the game, the physicality and intensity were there, but they withheld plenty. Take the result with a grain of salt.

However, the All Blacks win secured the Freedom Cup and took the team closer to winning a fourth straight SANZAAR title under Ian Foster.

There is no reason why you can’t win the battle and the war, while South Africa have an eye on the inverse after delivering a questionable showing.

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