It was brutal, it was ugly and at times it was downright awful. But somehow the All Blacks have escaped with a 21-11 win over the Springboks in their first test at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Contrary to pre-match predictions, the Springboks proved to be more than a challenge for the All Blacks and in the end probably should have walked away victors. They brought physicality to their game and got the better of the contact situations ensuring they had more than enough ball and field position to win the game.
But it was their own ineptitude that was their demise as they employed a predictable, one-dimensional game plan, looking to kick everything. Not only was this the wrong game plan to be using, it was executed poorly with the result being that the Springboks ended up simply kicking the ball back to the All Blacks.
Too often they were in prime attacking positions only to kick away the ball when they seemingly had the defence stretched. They simply had no clue what to do on attack and in the end it cost them what could have been an upset win.
To go with this they missed seven kicks. Seven kicks. This from a team that relies on kicking as their primary source of scoring. Whilst some of these were fairly optimistic attempts, there were a handful that were handy to the posts that normally metronomic Morne Steyn would expect to throw over.
And it was this as much as anything that ensured the All Blacks kept what is now a 14-game winning streak alive. They didn’t fire in the way they can and continue to look average as they have done for the entirety of the Rugby Championship.
Defensively they were strong, putting in some big hits and tackling in two’s and three’s. This has been a real strength of this All Blacks side, conceding just three tries in four games in the Rugby Championship. But even then, their accuracy wasn’t great and far too many penalties were conceded in kickable positions.
On attack they struggled to get any flow on, turning over the ball and making too many errors to apply any real pressure. It was a game that Daniel Carter would have made a huge difference in this area, as one would feel he would have controlled it a lot better than the younger Aaron Cruden.
After a fairly dour first half, a piece of Bryan Habana magic saw the Springboks take the lead early in the second and it seemed that momentum was in their favour. But as they have done so many times before, the All Blacks rallied in the last 20 minutes and a great individual effort by Aaron Smith coupled with three kicks from the boot of Aaron Cruden saw the All Blacks get home.
The best of the All Blacks was once again Israel Dagg, who continues in a rich vein of form after a shaky start to the year. He was lively on attack, proved safe under the high ball whilst making some outstanding clearance kicks under pressure.
Cory Jane too was good at the back, proving very safe under the high ball and was dangerous on the counterattack. The midfield of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith looked dangerous at times but were handled well by the Springboks, whilst Aaron Smith added a spark when introduced.
There was little to write home about up front, as the tight five were outplayed by their opponents who were more physical as a collective than the All Blacks. Richie McCaw though was once again brilliant on the loose, throwing himself around the field and continuing to make an impact in every area of the game. Kieran Read too was strong on defence and matched the South Africans for physicality.
The series will take a break next week, before the All Blacks travel to Argentina and the Springboks return home to face the Wallabies in two weeks time.