A strong second half has seen the All Blacks claim what was in the end a comprehensive 32-16 victory over the Springboks in Soweto. The win ensures that the All Blacks finish the Rugby Championship unbeaten and extend their winning streak to 16 games.
The New Zealanders showed great ball handling, flair and support play as they constructed four outstanding tries. It was the ability to do this that proved the difference between the two teams, as the Springboks struggled to convert their dominance into points.
And that really sums it up—well, the first half at any rate. The Springboks maintained a healthy advantage in the territory and possession stakes, whilst also leading the penalty count 7-0. This would point to a dominant Springbok lead going into the break. But it didn’t happen as the All Blacks withstood the attack and escaped having conceded just one try to the ever-present Bryan Habana. In contrast, the All Blacks were made to live off scraps, seeing virtually no ball in the first 20 minutes, but showed their ability to create something from nothing to score two tries of their own.
It was this helped the All Blacks go to the break trailing 16-12 and still very much in the game.
The second half, in contrast, was dominated by the All Blacks, as the Springbok forwards struggled to bring the physicality they had in the first half. The All Blacks looked to run the ball more, having better ball to work with that allowed the backs to unleash. A further two tries were managed, the first coming from a brilliant show of support play and flair, whilst the second came from a brilliantly executed set move from scrum time.
A drop goal and a penalty from Dan Carter saw the South African deficit extended to 16 points and the game effectively won. The Springboks threw everything at the All Blacks, but the defence continued to hold strong and in the end was outstanding, denying the South Africans any second half points.
Kieran Read was once again outstanding, running well and getting through plenty of work on defence, particularly in the first half. Richie McCaw too was strong on defence, whilst Liam Messam delivered a better performance. The locks were busy, getting through work and putting good pressure on at lineout time. The All Blacks own lineout struggled at first but got better as the game progressed, as it has done all year.
Andrew Hore was the pick of the front rowers and indeed was close to the best player on the park as he got through plenty of work in the tight-loose and at times was like a fourth loose forward.
The much talked-about Hosea Gear was arguably the best back on the park, looking for work and proving devastating with ball in hand. He had a hand in three of the four tries and must now surely have silenced his critics.
He was complemented well at the back by Israel Dagg and Cory Jane. Dagg kicked well and made the break that would lead to the third try, whilst Jane was safe under the high ball but had limited chances on attack.
Inside them the midfield of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith was once again rock solid, with Smith in particular having a strong game, tackling well and getting through plenty of work with ball in hand.
Dan Carter delivered a flawless performance that has come to be typical of him, whilst Aaron Smith too provided good service and was good option kicking from the base.
The bench deserves a mention too, as they came on and held out the Springboks in the second half, stepping up and showing the depth that exists in this All Blacks side.
For the Springboks it was a case of not capitalising on their dominance. Had they taken their chances it could have been a very different game.
Their forward pack operated well early, bringing a strong physicality that made the opening exchanges brutal. But this faded as the game went on and was reflected in the score. The backs failed to operate well, although Bryan Habana looked dangerous whenever he touched the ball.
The All Blacks now have a break, before looking ahead to a match against the Wallabies in Brisbane, before both sides embark on their end of year tour to Europe.