DURBAN - The rugby world dared to hope this would be a contest that might see the unbeaten Springboks break the cracks prised open in the Kiwis’ invincibility this season.
The British and Irish Lions won and drew a Test in New Zealand; Australia in Dunedin led until the 79th minute and indeed Argentina last week in New Plymouth were drawing until the 60th minute, so yesterday’s game was set up as a reportedly-resurgent Springboks against an All Black team that was stagnating.
Ho-ho .... What happened is the All Blacks lifted their game by the same exponential level as the Boks’ performance went south. The result 57-0 .... a record loss.
As least in Durban last year the Boks scored 15 points. Yesterday they did not fire a shot. They could not score a single point.
The knee-jerk reaction is to crucify the Boks, from Allister Coetzee down to the waterboy, and throw them all to the wolves. And then what?
When emotions calm down, we have to look at this game in context.
The Boks clearly are not as far up the trajectory curve as we had hoped for after last year, while this was as game where the All Blacks finally delivered their best performance of the year.
The hosts rarely made a mistake and the gulf between their skill levels and that of the Boks is as wide as the grand canyon, as one critic put it this week.
The truth is that the Boks are better than this the scoreline, compared to last year, if only because they have a better spirit and belief after 12 games in 2016 when they resembled Zombies.
The fact Allister Coetzee said this week the Boks had a chance of beating the All Blacks on home soil was both as naive as it was premature.
The first 20 minutes indeed showed the Boks believed they could win, but as Coetzee said after the match: “In that 20, we had three try-scoring opportunities but handling errors let us down, while the All Blacks, against the run of play had the same number of opportunities but slickly finished them off, and suddenly it was 22-0.
“Despite us having played some of our best rugby of the year. We are hurting, the players are devastated but we just could not crack them.
“Emotionally, I know the group will not give up.
“We have no option. We will get stronger from this before playing Australia.”
Captain Eben Etzebeth said: “It is going to be hard to pick our heads up, but we will bounce back. We have too.”
Had Elton Jantjies first of all kicked an early regulation penalty to put his team ahead, and then his teammates had nailed those tries instead of making basic handling errors, maybe it would have been a more competitive game.
You can’t throw intercept passes to the All Blacks.
Raymond Rhule has to make his tackles (he surely has mis-tackled his way out of the team), Malcolm Marx cannot be immense in general play, but then miss throw-ins to his jumpers, giving the most lethal team in the world sudden counter-attack ball.
Before the game Coetzee said: “We have to show composure on attack, defence, have solid set pieces and not make mistakes in the red zone.”
Sorry Allister, no ticked boxes there. And a heck of lot more than you have not mentioned.
Some 90 minute later, after his team had been lucky to achieve nil, Coetzee said: “We were just outplayed by the best team in the world who chose today to hit their straps.
“Their first three tries caught us napping, and they capitalised on our errors and suddenly you are chasing the game, when we could have been 10 points or so up if we had taken our chances in the opening quarter (which included that Jantjies sitter). All credit to the All Blacks, they were superb, we did well with our territory and possession in first half, and if we had got points, maybe it would have turned out different.
“And of course our set pieces were badly off-colour.”
Sorry Allister, territory and possession mean nothing if you do not put them to use and the bottom line is eight tries to zero.