Much better from the Springboks, but they’ll be kicking themselves for not going all the way
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The Springboks’ performance against the All Blacks in Townsville was no doubt a step-up from their double losses against the Wallabies, but perhaps the worst thing about this game was knowing that they could have won it.
This game was always going to be massive. Apart from it being the 100th meeting between rugby’s biggest rivals, the Boks’ recent results made this one crucial for South Africa. Jacques Nienaber’s men had to save face, they had to pay respect to the opportunity and, of course, their title as world champions.
And they did, but they will feel this agonising 17-19 defeat.
The Boks went back to South African basics and didn’t only hold the Kiwis, they beat them in many aspects. Their pack was solid and Siya Kolisi led in stunning fashion as he produced an absolute blinder. It wasn’t all good, though.
At times the Boks’ decision-making was questionable, while their defence – although a bit better than in the last two outings – was again an issue.
Flyhalf Handre Pollard was again off his usual game. Although he missed just one of his five kicks at goal, his kicking out of hand was average at best. The overall dip of halfback form continued as Faf de Klerk was inconsistent on attack. It was also his defensive slip that led to Codie Taylor’s break and Will Jordan’s subsequent try.
There were moments not capitalised on when the opportunity presented itself, and for all the good they did, they could have capitalised more from this performance.
The Kiwis were noticeably rattled at times and it was in those moments that the Boks could have milked their control more.
The Boks really took it to the New Zealanders on the ground and their scrummaging produced some of the finest moments – another vast improvement from their games against Australia.
The backline was again an issue, not because of any major misfiring, but because they lacked the lethal edge. They did, however, do well to rattle the opposition back three, and Sbu Nkosi reacted well to score the Boks’ sole try.
One thing that has become rather puzzling, though, is the use of the Bok bench. Some substitutions were a bit puzzling.
At scrumhalf, for example, the switch could have come earlier. Other than an extra Test cap, what purpose did Herschel Jantjies coming on so late really serve?
Overall, however, this Bok performance was a win in many aspects, not on the scoreboard, but in many other ways.
And after two humbling defeats, it is a reason to smile.