Durban - The last five minutes of Saturday’s epic encounter between the Springboks and the All Blacks were not for the faint of heart, but for once it was the South Africans on the right side of a cliffhanger in the Rugby Championship.
In ending a three-match losing streak, Mike Greenaway looks at five areas where the Boks got it right.
As Depeche Mode implored in their 1983 No 1 hit, you have to Get the Balance Right, and the Boks did just that after the whole world climbed into them for kicking themselves to death in the Centenary Test against the Old Foe. This was the ideal blend of typical Springbok physicality, set-piece dominance, astute tactical kicking AND moving the ball when forward momentum had opened up space. Interestingly, while the Boks still kicked a whopping 27 times, their accumulated running metres was higher than the All Blacks, and usually nobody runs more than the New Zealanders.
Much better use of the bench
Jacques Nienaber looks every bit the mad professor as he sits in the coaches’ box plotting and planning behind those nerdy glasses. At one point I thought his head was going to pop he was scheming so frantically! But wow did he get it right. Has it ever happened before in a Test match that an entirely new front row comes on before halftime (the 38th minute)? This was the bomb squad on a different level as the screws were turned on the All Blacks up front. And ending Willie le Roux’s misery with Frans Steyn had to be done as early as it was, so too was getting Elton Jantjies on sooner rather than later.
Arise, Sir Elton
No, not Elton John but Elton Jantjies who came on to give the All Blacks the blues with a fine exhibition of closing out a Test match. This included a try-assist, a drop goal and the final nail in the coffin in the 83rd minute, even if it was a penalty in front of the posts. After the heart-break the week before, I wrote that the Boks would have won had Janjties come on for shaky Handre Pollard for the last quarter but there was a confusing explanation from the coach that Janjies could not come on because he was the last sub on an otherwise emptied bench and Marco van Staden was playing with an injury. So if Marco had to come off, was Elton going to play flank?
The “Jet Boots” fire once more
Back in 2009, Francois Steyn was dubbed “Jet Boots” by dejected New Zealanders after the 22-year-old had launched three penalty missiles from deep within his half to help his team to a Tri-Nations title-clinching win in Hamilton. While he did not take shots at goal on Saturday, his field kicking was huge, literally, and set up that final push for victory. A little earlier, Steyn had been very harshly pinged by the referee for not rolling away in a tackle and Barrett kicked his team ahead. Steyn was apoplectic with rage but when the ref’s arm went up to give the Boks the match-clinching penalty, Steyn was bounding about in jubilation like a kid at Christmas. That is how much beating the All Blacks meant to him, even when he had done it four times before in his career. Steyn is a winner and he simply had to come on for poor old Willie at halftime.
Many critics that feared the Boks were in for a blow-out in this match after having played a “cup final” in the Centenary Test, only to lose agonisingly at the death. But those who felt the Boks would be psychologically burnt out and would have one foot on the plane after 18 weeks in a bio-bubble did not reckon with the mental mettle of Siya Kolisi’s champions. You do not win the World Cup if you are lacking in the cajones department, and the Boks came out even harder for this match, if that is possible. They were 20-14 down at halftime after the All Blacks had scored a flurry of points just before the break but the third quarter then belonged to the Boks, with Ian Foster admitting that in this period his team was “flustered” by the intensity of the Boks. The last time the Boks beat the All Blacks after being behind at halftime was in 1998, and that was another champion side, Gary Teichmann’s team that equalled the record for consecutive Test victories.