Despite finding themselves five points down at half time, the All Blacks beat South Africa 20-18.
The All Blacks have taken another step toward defending their crown after beating the Springboks 20-18. However South Africa came close to making an upset and will rue a Damian De Allende knock on and a missed lineout as the game entered its closing stages.
Nevertheless, Although the All Blacks were fully deserving of their win, Steve Hansen will not be best pleased with certain aspects of his teams performance.
1. New Zealand’s Final Ten Minutes
After Pat Lambie kicked the Springboks within two points of New Zealand with ten minutes to play, it seemed as if the momentum was turning in their favour.
Indeed moments later the Springboks found themselves with an attacking line out within the All Black 22. However New Zealand did not panic. Although the South African maul was strong all afternoon, the All Blacks forced it into retreat and completed the turn over after Damian De Allende lost control of the ball in contact.
Although it seemed the moment seemed lost, a sliced clearance gave the Springboks another platform from which to attack just outside the 22. However Samuel Whitelock stole possession from the throw, putting New Zealand on the verge of victory.
With the rain pouring down and facing a Springbok maul, previous All Black sides would have ‘choked’ in such a position. However this side has learned the lessons of the past and refused to panic.
2. South Africa’s Defence
In the main, South Africa defended very well. They forced the All Blacks inside and into the waiting arms of Francois Louw and Schalk Burger. Their line speed also denied the All Blacks space and time to unleash Nehe Milner Skudder and Julian Savea.
Although New Zealand were kicking behind the onrushing Springbok defence, they never looked entirely comfortable doing so, with Dan Carter guilty of overcooking a number of grubbers.
However the positioning of JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana must be questioned for each All Black try. Both wingers came inside leaving Jerome Kaino and Beauden Barrett the space to touch down. Indeed Pietersen was particularly guilty of not closing down either Barrett or Ma’a Nonu.
3. New Zealand’s Discipline
The All Blacks are an aggressive team who look to win turnovers and are willing to be cynical when necessary. However today they conceded 13 penalties. Many of these were for for reasons of ill discipline rather than border line refereeing decisions.
At times New Zealand’s only answer to South Africa’s dominance at the maul was to give away penalties. Kieran Read for example, blatantly came in from the side to allow Lambie bring South Africa within two points. While the cynicism displayed by Kaino before being sent to the bin left a sour taste.
4. New Zealand’s Maul Defence
In the lead up to the game, many argued that the maul was an area of massive weakness for New Zealand. During the Rugby Championship, Argentina scored two easy tries against the New Zealand maul, while had Eben Etzebeth been a little more patient in the following game, South Africa could have beaten the All Blacks.
Today those arguments were underlined, with the Springboks noticeably going to the maul off many of their line outs.
Such a weakness will not be overlooked by either Argentina or Australia.
5. Is Northern Hemisphere Rugby Really Dead
After a week in which commentators pointed to the gap between northern and southern hemisphere rugby, this game will serve to illustrate that it is far from dead.
South Africa rarely moved the ball outside De Allende, relied on their maul and used the box kick to gain territory. Likewise, New Zealand looked to secure possession with runners in midfield and attempted to grubber kick behind the Springbok defence.
Indeed, despite much talk of New Zealand’s brilliant handling skills, they only offloaded the ball on four occasions. Granted the weather impacted upon the game, but both sides looked to play the percentages and adopted a northern game plan.
The pace at which the Rugby Championship play the game is greatest difference between the hemispheres. Each championship team play with greater tempo, accuracy and can execute the basic skills under pressure.
Put simply, the game is not about fancy offloads, but dominating the breakdown and performing the basics at pace.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena