Containing just about every aspect of high-adrenaline rugby that one can expect when two of the sport's biggest giants clash under the circumstances, New Zealand's win over South Africa didn't disappoint.
The All Blacks took a massive step towards retaining their Rugby Championship title with a 29-15 triumph over the Springboks at Eden Park, although the result didn't come easily.
As always in a match of this magnitude, there are individuals and groups alike that come off slightly better than others, with the winners and losers of the game discussed ahead.
The real spearhead behind the All Blacks’ win, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Steve Hansen’s forwards fought fire with fire and emerged victorious in the pack.
Of course, the sending off of Bismarck Du Plessis had a substantial influence on just which pack won out, but there’s no denying the talent of New Zealand’s forwards.
More specifically, the locks and back row were in an incredibly dynamic mood at Eden Park, with the likes of Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane and Kieran Read particularly active around the pitch.
Read crossed over for two tries of his own and was unfortunate not to become the first All Black ever to score a hat-trick against the Springboks when he was judged to have moved the ball forward with his body in attempting to slide over for his third in the second half.
That aforementioned trio may have been the highlights of the evening for New Zealand’s forwards, but it was very much a pack effort in overcoming South Africa’s forwards, arguably their greatest asset.
An aspect of the 2013 Rugby Championship that’s been discussed at length has been the new scrum laws, designed to initiate a safer, more balanced game in the long run.
However, Saturday’s match was again evidence of just how the southern hemisphere’s nations are still adapting to the changes.
You could probably count on one hand just how many scrums were actually played out in full as referee Romain Poite was forced to penalise the packs more often than not.
In the end, the lack of scrumming fluidity made for a turgid, broken-up game that was largely lacking in smooth play for the most part.
One can only hope that teams adjust to the new style sooner rather than later, lest we see similarly cringe-worthy outings in the future.
The mark of a championship side is not necessarily having the best 15 for the duration of a tournament, but having the best 23 players, able to call upon talent from the bench should one need it.
In that sense, New Zealand can certainly consider themselves as boasting one of the deepest rosters in the world, with multiple players in just about every position—all of world-class quality.
When Dan Carter was injured early on, Hansen had a more-than-ample alternative in Beauden Barrett. With Richie McCaw out through injury, Sam Cane filled in with a McCaw-esque performance of his own.
Even Steve Luatua had to settle for a spot on the bench against the Springboks but was welcomed on to the pitch with open arms when he did feature.
Whether it’s in the forwards or backs, a bone-crunching clash in Auckland required its fair share of replacements and the All Blacks were happy to respond.
The first-ever Rugby Championship red card was dished out on Saturday, with South Africa’s Bismarck Du Plessis undeservedly on the receiving end.
After being shown two yellows by referee Poite, the Springboks’ hooker can feel more than slightly hard done by in his punishment.
Early in the first half, Du Plessis was judged to have put in a dangerous tackle on New Zealand’s Dan Carter, a challenge that commentators and Heyneke Meyer alike will have felt was within the rules of the game.
The second offence—a high arm in the fend—was slightly less defendable and may have indeed warranted a sin-binning, but the damage had already been done.
As a result, South Africa found themselves with 14 men for almost the entire second half, which unfortunately had a major impact on how things played out.
This year’s Rugby Championship has been an ever-changing one for Hansen in terms of just who rules the roost in his No. 10 jersey.
Again, Carter picked up an injury at Eden Park in his 97th test match and had to be replaced by young Beauden Barrett, who did well to steady the nerves and inject his own influence on matters.
With Bismarck Du Plessis in the sin bin early on, Barrett took advantage of the one-man advantage and showed his potential to cut the line before offloading to the real battering rams such as Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
Just 22 years of age, the budding Hurricane gave a massively-encouraging display in the triumph over South Africa and is one of a number of fly-half options that Hansen can call upon in a pinch.
One area the youngster may still look to improve is in his kicking game, but that should come with time.
With four yellow cards and a red, the lack of discipline on display at Eden Park was both one of the best aspects of the match as well as the worst.
On one hand, the varying squad numbers made for a highly-entertaining back-and-forth between the two sides.
On the other, the general disregard for player safety—and genuine playing quality at times—wasn’t the best advertisement for the sport.
Bismarck Du Plessis, Ma’a Nonu and Kieran Read were the three players who spent varying time on the sidelines, but the general slowing of play was sometimes hard to watch.
Regardless, the match did indeed live up to expectations in terms of entertainment value and one can only hope there’s even more to come for the reverse fixture.