Simply dubbed “The Final,” Saturday’s title-deciding fixture between South Africa and New Zealand didn’t fail to disappoint in what is now being regarded as one of the greatest games of rugby seen in years.
In the end, the All Blacks were simply too hot to handle, tying up a 12th consecutive Rugby Championship victory and winning the tournament for the second year in succession.
Will Greenwood testified to the quality of the two sides over Twitter:
The excitement won’t stop there, however, with all the reaction, analysis and squad improvement expected to feature largely in the coming weeks of fallout from the All Blacks' 37-28 win.
The epic encounter between two of, if not the rugby world’s best sides right now, threw up its fair share of talking points.
All Blacks’ Dominance Lies In Their Inexhaustible Reserves
It’s often hypothesised that the true strength of a team rests not in a few standout stars, but in the depth of the squad, especially when accounting for a longer, more drawn-out tournament.
Over the course of this Rugby Championship, New Zealand have had as big a share of injuries and absences as any other nation, with the likes of Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino just some of the players to have missed some, if not all of the competition.
Against Australia, the vast reserves that Steve Hansen is able to call upon were on full display from beginning to end.
Aaron Cruden filled in excellently for the injured Carter, coping well with a sometimes-disjointed relationship with his half-back Aaron Smith.
However, what was most impressive was the quality of substitutes that the All Blacks can call upon compared to the other top teams in the world, with the likes of Steven Luatua, Sam Cane, Beauden Barrett, Dane Coles and Owen Franks all of a very high standard in their own rights.
That’s not to say New Zealand’s first XV doesn’t have its stars; in fact they probably have a handful or more of the best players in the world in their respective positions, but it’s the long line of accomplished replacements that makes the squad so strong.
Kieran Read The Best No. 8 In World Rugby Right Now
While Sergio Parisse, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Louis Picamoles, Jamie Heaslip or any other world-class No. 8 might argue their case, Kieran Read now stands as the world’s finest from the back of the scrum.
On Saturday, one could have mistaken the towering Crusader for a centre considering the quality of handling Read often displayed.
It was he who set Ben Smith up for the game’s opening try, once again nonchalantly offloading to his winger without looking, just as he has done all tournament.
However, Read also managed to grab a try of his own, his third in three matches for the All Blacks.
Over the course of the last eight weeks, the 6’4” forward has shown a mobility not too often seen from a man his size, with perhaps only Parisse and Lobbe holding a torch to the guile with which he gets about the pitch.
The Rugby Championship's official Twitter account posted this sensational photo of the forward, summing up the success he's enjoyed in recent weeks:
Read’s tendency to drag onto the wing and offer a substantial hand in laying the foundations of attack are an extremely enamouring trait in the No. 8, and he’s currently reaping the benefits with another Man of the Match performance against South Africa.
In total, the 27-year-old carried for 71 metres on Saturday, second only to Israel Dagg among the New Zealand ranks.