CAPE TOWN – They played with much more conviction in the second half, but the Springboks just couldn’t get over the line as the All Blacks claimed a 25-24 triumph at Newlands on Saturday night to finish the Rugby Championship unbeaten.
The Boks sorted out their defence this week, and the plan was to carry out “gang tackles” and maintain their shape at close quarters, and it worked a treat as they didn’t give the All Blacks much room to manoeuvre.
But the Bok tactics in the first half were bizarre as scrumhalf Ross Cronjé was clearly instructed by coach Allister Coetzee to launch box-kick after box-kick, and the ploy eventually resulted in the Newlands crowd booing.
The manner in which they approached the second half would hopefully serve as a reminder to Coetzee that holding on to hard-earned possession is the way to go, and it could’ve been a very different outcome if the Boks had adopted that style for the full 80 minutes.
The first half was an arm-wrestle being the lightning quick counter-attack from Kieran Read’s men – with young wing Rieko Ioane again devastating whenever he got the ball – and a thunderous Springbok defence.
Elton Jantjies and Beauden Barrett exchanged penalties around the 11th-minute mark, but the Bok flyhalf had a bad miss 15 minutes later from about 40 metres out, but straight in front.
The Kiwis took full advantage, with centre Ryan Crotty winning the race to the loose ball to dot down in the 32nd minute, although Barrett possibly knocked the ball on just before the line.
The incident was referred to the TMO, who awarded the try.
But the South Africans made up for a lacklustre first-half attack by keeping ball-in-hand at the start of the second, and it paid dividends as Cronjé placed the ball at the base of the upright after a relentless passage of play where the outstanding Malcolm Marx and powerful Steven Kitshoff were prominent.
But after Lima Sopoaga missed a penalty, the Boks suffered an unfortunate turnaround when on attack near the hour mark, with Rieko Ioane scoring an intercept try following a pass from Cronjé to Courtnall Skosan, who lost the ball forward.
But the Boks didn’t give up, and it was replacement flyhalf Handré Pollard who provided the inspiration with a trademark inside half-break, and he offloaded to Marx, who rampaged forward before putting Jean-Luc du Preez over.
The South African lineout functioned well all night, but just when it looked like the Boks could cause an upset, the All Blacks won one against the throw, and eventually Damian McKenzie danced past Francois Louw for a stunning five-pointer.
There was more bad news late in the piece when Damian de Allende was given a straight red card for a late charge on Sopoaga, who got up and drove the final nail into the Bok coffin with a penalty.
Springboks 24 – Tries: Ross Cronjé, Jean-Luc du Preez, Malcolm Marx. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2), Handré Pollard (1). Penalty: Jantjies (1).
All Blacks 25 – Tries: Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane, Damian McKenzie. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (2). Penalties: Beauden Barrett (1), Sopoaga (1).