South Africa vs. New Zealand: Winners and Losers
We hoped for a classic from the two best sides in the world, and we got one.
For periods, it looked like South Africa could achieve the impossible, but the All Blacks were utterly brilliant.
In a game that gave the neutral so much to enjoy, it’s almost cruel to single out anyone as a loser, but here we go with the winners and losers from the climax of the Rugby Championship.
Winner: Kieran Read
All the talk was of Richie McCaw coming back into the All Black side, but the captain was outshone on the night by his back-row colleague, Kieran Read.
In a game littered with fine performances, Read was the best player on the park.
It was Read’s outstanding turnover late in the first half that saw his side snare a try to nudge themselves ahead just before the break.
In the second half, we saw another demonstration of his pace and intelligence as he linked up with Julian Savea, receiving a pass from his left wing to gallop home for the try that snuffed out the Springbok dream.
It was his third score against the Boks in this tournament.
Read's handling and running are a joy to watch right now—the world’s premier No. 8 by a length.
Winner: Jean De Villiers
In the 62nd minute, referee Nigel Owens was told that New Zealand’s No. 16 Dane Coles was not on the team sheet and should not have been on the field as Andrew Hore's replacement.
The replacement hooker listed was Keven Mealamu, but upon a brief inquest with the All Blacks official, it was admitted this was a typing error. Chins were being scratched about what to do, and one of the best games we've seen for a while was in danger of descending into farce.
Enter the Springboks' captain Jean de Villiers, who could well have used a clerical error to swing things his side’s way and reduce New Zealand to 14 men.
Rather than that, he trotted over to the committee meeting by the touchline and suggested they make no fuss, crack on with the rugby the punters had come to see and carry on duking it out.
Top work from a top bloke.
Winner: Bryan Habana
Two tries in the space of two minutes from Bryan Habana lit up the first quarter of the match. His first was expertly finished after great work from Duane Vermuelen.
Habana showed all his class to evade Conrad Smith in the dead ball area and get round under the posts.
If that was impressive, his second was pure brilliance, executing a chip from the hands perfectly and claiming the bouncing ball to score.
It was cruel to Habana, who looked so sharp, that his next act was to pull a hamstring while claiming a high ball. His match was done before halftime, but he showed the world he still has a rightful claim to the title of one of the world’s best wings.
Winner: Liam Messam
Messam has emerged as the best No. 6 in Steve Hansen's collection of back rowers once and for all.
He underlined his importance to the side in this clash with outstanding defensive work and also scored twice in the first half.
Since being left out of the 2011 World Cup squad, he has improved further, shaking off the tag of versatile back rower but never first choice in any position. He is now a world-class No. 6.
A yellow card blotted his copybook in this game, and when he was off the field, it was noticeable how the Springboks got back on the front foot.
Messam has the chance to nail down the shirt long-term with performances like this.
Loser: Andrew Hore
The veteran and his front-row companions were given a torrid time by the South African front row, conceding possession at the scrum on more than one occasion.
If there is a weakness in this All Black side, it could be in the set piece.
Admittedly, that is like trying to look for a small flaw in a 24-carat diamond, but it stands to reason that, while watching this from behind their sofas, the northern-hemisphere sides may just have spotted a chink in their armour here.
When everything else in their arsenal is so much better than anybody's, it might not even matter.
Loser: Willie Le Roux
This is harsh. It’s worse than harsh. But Le Roux makes this list as a loser for one reason and one reason only.
When you’re a winger being chased down by a replacement fly half and the tryline is so close you can smell it, being thwarted by the fly half’s desperate lunge when all he can do is brush your calf with his forearm qualifies as a golden chance gone begging.
If Le Roux were playing in a Saturday afternoon amateur club game and suffered the same fate, he’d be on a stool in the clubhouse seeing off a pint of mess after the match.
Other than that, the boy had a stormer.