Sevu Reece of New Zealand (All Blacks) and Makazole Mapimpi of South Africa jump for the high ball during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match between New Zealand and South African at the International Stadium Yokohama. Picture: Steve Haag Sports/Hollywoodbets

The Springboks’ long anticipated battle with the All Blacks in Yokohama has been lost but the World Cup war can still be won by South Africa.

The Boks, in defeat, showed that they have deep reserves of fighting spirit, and they are going to have to dig ever deeper if they are to bounce back to win the Webb Ellis Cup.

No country has ever won the trophy after losing a Pool game, so that is a record waiting to be broken and it could well happen in the final itself given that the permutations of the tournament allow for these two teams to have a rematch in the final.

If that comes to pass, the Boks might also have the benefit of a “neutral” referee given that they regularly fell foul of Jerome Garces, who penalised the Boks 10 occasions to two at the breakdown.

To be frank, the Boks seldom win favour with French referees.

But let’s not dwell on the officiating as the reason for this bracing defeat - although it was a mitigating factor - and examine where the Boks went wrong and what they must put right if they are indeed to challenge for the title.

The Boks were very poor in the air, fullback Willie le Roux looking distinctly uncomfortable, and one wonders if his poor form will keep him in the side ahead of Warrick Gelant.

And while the unfortunate Le Roux fumbled and floundered before the aerial assault, Cheslin Kolbe was utterly magnificent.

Pound for pound he must be close to being the best rugby player on the planet. He is brave and efficient under the high ball, venomous in the tackle and then exhilarating on the counter-attack.

Kolbe was the heartbeat of a Springbok effort that fell 10 points short of the All Blacks in the end but for the opening 30 minutes looked like it had the measure of the champions.

Aaron Smith of New Zealand about to kick during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match between New Zealand and South African at the International Stadium Yokohama. Picture: Steve Haag Sports/Hollywoodbets

A crowd of 72 000 watched the All Blacks getting caught static by the lightning line speed of the Bok defenders and for the first quarter the All Blacks were harassed and harried, but all the Boks could muster was three points.

There were two occasions in that period when Garcia criminally played almost no advantage at all for All Black infringements, robbing the Boks of goalable penalty efforts for Handre Pollard, and then the flyhalf himself knocked a sitter against an upright.

And then the All Blacks, like a boxer responding to a period of punishment on the ropes, burst onto the attack.

Winger Sevu Reece broke down the touchline to set up a try ultimately finished by fellow wing George Bridge, and then lock Scott Barrett was on the end of a move that had its origin in Pollard failing to field a high ball.

Suddenly the All Blacks were 17-3 up after having been under the cosh for 25 minutes of the game.

It was a case of two chances, two tries, and the Boks were reeling after a 17-point surge, after having been in control.

The problem for the Boks as they began the second half is that they are a team that leads well, and defends a lead well, but are not good at catch-up rugby.

So the big question at half time was whether the Boks could recover.

Well they responded almost predictably by an electrifying break down the touchline by Kolbe and from the pressure in the New Zealand danger area, Pieter-Steph du Toit burst though to score under the crossbar.

A Pollard drop goal continued the comeback but ultimately referee Garcia’s awarding of late penalties for Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett to goal proved the difference on the scoreboard.


Sunday Independent

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