CAPE TOWN – South Africa's Springboks' suffered a demoralising 23-13 defeat to New Zealand's All Blacks in their 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool B opener at the International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama City, Japan, on Saturday.
It was a low-key performance by the Springboks who are one of the favourites at the showpiece event but on the day, they seldom looked like a side who could be considered serious challengers for the Webb Ellis Cup.
Despite a decided territorial first-half advantage, the Springboks had little to show for it. On the other hand, their mistakes proved costly as the All Blacks cashed in with two tries, both of which came on the back of shoddy defence.
The scoreboard was in business in the opening minute with a Handré Pollard penalty after Springbok prop Steven Kitshoff swooped for a turn-over, but the All Blacks held on. The Springbok flyhalf goaled from just inside the All Blacks' half (3-0).
Soon afterwards, the All Blacks recreated a few opportunities inside the Springboks' half without threatening the opposition defence.
For the next 12 minutes or so, the Springboks held the upper hand territorially but were unable to make headway in the face of the All Blacks' stout defence. They should have gone 6-0 up, but Pollard hashed his kick and struck the upright in the 17th minute.
Midway through the half, the Springboks spilt a pass, and this was the first of many blunders that the All Blacks punished heavily with a 17-point burst in a mere seven minutes.
Richie Mo’unga who picked up the ball after the spilt pass was kicked ahead was brought down with a face-saving tackle by Springbok leftwing Makazole Mapimpi. In the process, he gave a penalty away and Mo’unga goaled in the 22nd minute (3-3).
Apart from the lapses in the Springboks' general play, there were also a host of missed tackles and while the All Blacks kept plugging away gaps opened in the defence and leftwing George Bridge burst through a converted try (10-7).
The Springboks hardly had time to recover from this 10-point setback when the All Blacks added to their woes with a try by lock Scott Barrett in the 28th minute. Mo’unga added the conversion a minute later and All Blacks held a commanding 17-3 lead.
There was very little coming by way of enterprise from the Springboks as they looked to chase down the deficit and their attacks were both one-dimensional and predictable.
By the time French referee Jérôme Garcès sounded the halftime whistle, the Springboks had run up a count of 23 missed tackles in the first half.
The Springboks took the game by the scruff of the neck when second-half play started and rightwing Cheslin Kolbe provided the spark when he ran clear after catching a high ball in his half. He was tracked down by the cover defence in what was easily the most exciting play in the match was so far.
More pressure from the Springboks followed and next lock Pieter-Steph du Toit burst through for a try as the All Blacks' rucks defence was nowhere to be seen. Pollard's conversion cut the deficit to seven points (17-10).
The seven-point deficit became four when Pollard snapped over a drop-goal on the hour mark (17-13).
The All Blacks regained the seven-point lead when Mo’unga was on target with a 66th-minute penalty (20-13).
With the Springboks unable to make further headway, scoreboard pressure continued to build when All Black fullback Beauden Barrett added three more points with a penalty in the 72nd minute (23-13).
With this score, the match seemed beyond the Springboks although Kolbe produced a moment of magic towards the end, but the All Blacks' defence held out to safeguard their match-winning lead.
Scorers: South Africa 13 (3): Try: Pieter-Steph du Toit. Conversion: Handré Pollard. Penalty: Handré Pollard. Drop goal: Pollard
New Zealand 23 (17): Tries: George Bridge, Scott Barrett. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (2). Penalties: Mo’unga (2), Beauden Barrett