All Blacks just beat the Springboks
Words spoken by Eben Etzebeth after the thrilling 25-24 match at Newlands on Saturday. And of course it was much better. Everything in South Africa history of Test rugby is better than 57-0, eight tries to nil. This time the difference was 56 points better and the try score three-all.
But Etzebeth also said: "It still wasn't the result we wanted."
Much better, but not good enough. There will be relief all over South Africa and even some Etzebeth disappointment but in time South Africa and the world may come to realise that this was a magnificent game of rugby – the unpredictability of it, the speed, the fluctuating fortunes, the willingness of the players to play all of rugby – attack and defence with switches of roles from time to time.
It was a great occasion for the marvellous old ground with its 48 000 spectators, and its 46 players and four match officials. It was a great occasion. And Newlands has known great occasions in its 127 years – great rugby occasions.
Obviously it was a match that either side could have won. New Zealand may feel a touch of relief but it is true that great sides keep on winning. Sometimes it is with a flourish, as in Albany, and sometimes by the skin of their teeth as at Newlands. But winning is what they keep on doing.
After the match, Kieran Read said it was a great match to have played in. It was a great match to be at – a rugby feast.
Of course, the Springboks could have won. They scored three tries of their own construction; two New Zealand tries came from Springbok error but then the great All Blacks came snap up the chances such errors present.
And, in the end, the points that produced the one-point victory came from the only gross act of the day – a late tackle with a forearm leading at the kicker's face. That produced a red card – a needless and destructive red card.
The spirit of the match is probably best shown in the first half as the two sides took turns to keep the half going for nine minutes beyond the siren sounded for half-time.
In the beginning, three impi warriors charged about the field, the players were introduced to people labelled dignitaries, the anthems were sung and the kamate haka performed (to olé's from some of the crowd). Beauden Barrett kicked off and the excitement started.
The Springboks scored first. After a flurry of kicks by both sides, the players settled down to playing, as the All Blacks used a turnover to set Milner-Skudder running and only great tackle by Lood de Jager on Aaron Smith prevented a try.
Down the other end, the Springboks went on a pick-'n-go and Sam Whitelock was penalised at a tackle when Malcolm Marx tried to get the ball at a tackle, and Jantjies goaled the straightforward kick. 3-0 after 9 minutes.
Beauden Barrett kicked off, Francois Louw, under pressure, knocked on and the ball struck Etzebeth in front of him. Etzebeth then played the ball and was penalised. Beauden Barrett goaled. 3-3 after 11 minutes.
Ross Cronje chipped and the All Blacks countered. The ball went wide left to Rieko Ioane who raced down the left, swerved inside Cronje and seemed about to score when Jesse Kriel felled him with such force that he lost the ball forward over the goal-line.
The Springboks again battled in the scrums, not because they were destroyed but because they were penalised four times at scrums. Early in the match, when given the choice of a scrum or a line-out, the Springboks chose a scrum, such was their confidence. Later they opted for the line-out, which was working well for them in the match.
At this five-metre scrum, the Springboks were penalised but the All Blacks turned down the simple kick at goal for a five-metre line-out. They went wide and Marx saved the day by winning a penalty through his determination at the tackle.
Cronje broke and the All Blacks won a turnover and attacked. Sam Cane was penalised for being offside but Jantjies missed the straightforward kick.
The Springboks went right well inside their half and Jantjies, on his less favoured side, kicked. Beauden Barrett put up both hands to charge it down and then flykicked and raced after the ball which bobbled loose in the Springbok in-goal where Ryan Crotty just beat Siya Kolisi to the touchdown. Beauden Barrett went off at this stage and Damian McKenzie attempted the conversion. 8-3 to New Zealand after 32 minutes.
The end of the half was a long time coming. The siren sounded but the Springboks kept on playing till, it seemed, they settled for a break, but Andries Coetzee's kick was not out and McKenzie started a counterattack. The Springboks won a turnover; the All Blacks won it back. Twice the All Blacks were penalised and twice the Springboks kept on playing. Milner-Skudder went off injured, the Springboks drove a maul and, when the All Blacks ended the half, nine minutes had elapsed after the siren.
The Springboks were clever at the front of a line-out and Marx and Kitshoff rumbled down the left to set the Springboks bashing at the line. Marx was close twice, Kitshoff once and then Cronje dived forward and dabbed the ball against the padding for a try. The Springboks led 10-8 after 45 minutes.
At this stage the All Blacks changed their whole front row and Matt Todd replaced Cane. The Springboks brought on Wilco Louw, Jean-Luc du Preez, Handré Pollard and Franco Mostert. With Louw at tighthead the Springbok scrum stood firm; penalties ceased.
But the All Blacks were next to score when Springbok handling went astray and Ioane got the ball. Only Du Preez could have stopped him, getting close enough to pat the All Black on the back as he raced 80 metres to score. The All Blacks were leading 15-10 with 20 minutes to play.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow came on for a subdued Aaron Smith and Damian de Allende replaced Jan Serfontein just after the inside centre had had a strong run down the right wing.
Pollard took the ball flat, broke and gave to Marx. The hooker charged down the middle of the field and passed a perfect pass to Du Preez on his right, who surged over for the try. The Springboks led 17-15 with 15 minutes to play.
Cronje kicked yet another box kick. Up till now these kicks had been fruitless and this one reached Havili on the left wing in his own half. Havili accelerated into a counterattacked heading at an angle towards the right. Havili beat two Springboks and gave to McKenzie who raced past anchored forwards to score on the right. Sopoaga converted. 22-17 to New Zealand with 10 minutes to play.
At this stage Pollard went off for a head injury assessment and Jantjies returned.
The All Blacks attacked and Kerr-Barlow passed back to Sopoaga who dropped for goal. He missed but South Africa's troubles were not over, as the TMO and the other match officials watched De Allende jump, come to ground and crash into Sopoaga. The late tackle, exacerbated by the forearm to the face, sent De Allende packing and Sopoaga with an easy penalty. 25-17 with five minutes to play.
The Springboks raced back to get back into the game. The All Blacks were penalised and Jantjies kicked an excellent penalty out five metres from the All Blacks line. They mauled and drove over for a try credited to Marx. 25-24 with under two minutes to play.
The Springboks attacked with zest but, the siren sounded, the All Blacks won a turnover and Sopoaga kicked out for a victory in a great match when the ball was being played for 44 minutes, a high figure for any rugby match.
Man of the Match: Malcolm Marx. The powerful young hooker produced a great all-round performance to stand above the greatness of other performers – Damian McKenzie, Eben Etzebeth, Kieran Read, Steven Kitshoff and, in his truncated appearance, Beauden Barrett.
Barrett went off and failed an injury assessment test after 32 minutes, just after he had set up the first try of the match. Later the All Blacks would lose Nehe Milner-Skudder to a shoulder injury. Lima Sopoaga replaced Barrett and scored seven points. David Havili replaced Milner-Skudder and set up McKenzie's try.
Moment of the Match: That nine minutes of play beyond the siren at the end of the fist half, signifying as it did the enthusiasm of two teams playing great rugby.
Villain of the Match: Damian de Allende.
For South Africa:
Tries: Cronje, Du Preez, Marx
Cons: Jantjies 2, Pollard
For New Zealand:
Tries: Crotty, Ioane, McKenzie
Cons: Sopoaga 2
Pen: B. Barrett, Sopoaga
Red card: Damian de Allende (Springboks, 76 – Late Tackle)
South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Damian de Allende.
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 David Havili.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)