The All Blacks have gone some way to restoring pride back into the black jersey by dealing to the Springboks 32-12 last night in Auckland. The men in black dominated every facet of the game and showed just how far they've come since the 2009 Tri-Nations where they were beaten three times by the South Africans.
The game seemed to be in the balance for the first 10 minutes and it seemed we were going to see a close physical encounter as we have come to expect between these two nations as the Springboks led 3-0 early on.
It wasn't to be though, as the All Blacks played a much more positive, attacking style of rugby looking to move the ball early and run from deep inside their own half. The Springboks struggled to keep up and were unable to keep the All Blacks out as they touched down for four outstanding tries.
In contrast the Springboks opted to play a more negative, one-dimensional game, looking to kick everything they got. This played right into the All Blacks hands as it enabled them to unleash their counterattack and cut through the Springboks defence time and time again.
Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu both touched down in the first half, to go with two penalty goals and two conversions from the radar like Daniel Carter taking the halftime score to an almost unthinkable 20-3.
The Springboks displayed some fight in the first 10 minutes of the second half, getting the score back to 20-9, but the pace of the game caught up to them in the final 30 as the All Blacks ran in another two tries courtesy of Kieran Read and Tony Woodcock to take the final score to 32-12.
It was an excellent all round performance by an All Black side who were playing full of confidence. The biggest plus of the night was the success of their lineout, an area where South Africa has dominated in recent years and were expected to dominate again. This wasn't the case, as the All Blacks won three against the throw as well as securing all their own ball.
Their forward pack simply played with more passion and physicality as they pushed the Springbok forwards around all night, enabling them to effect many turnovers and give their backs good go forward ball. No one individual stood out but Tom Donnelly and Brad Thorn were both exceptional in their work around the park.
The backline looked dangerous, playing with creativity and hitting the ball well as they ran rings around a Springbok defence that at times looked lost as struggled to contain their opposition. Ma'a Nonu had an excellent performance on his return to the side, showing just how much he has been missed. Conrad Smith, Daniel Carter, Cory Jane and Joe Rokocoko all had strong games but special mention must go to Mils Muliaina, who had arguably his best game in an All Black jersey.
In contrast the Springboks looked flustered and had no answer to the All Blacks as they were forced to endure wave after wave of attack. One would have to question their tactics. While kicking and waiting for a mistake has worked for them in the past, it wasn't working last night. They were effectively just giving the ball back to the All Blacks to run back at them.
Only once in the game did they look like scoring a try, stemming from a lack of confidence running the ball and the inability to create themselves any opportunities.
Their forwards were bullied for the whole game and struggled to get their side on the front foot. In 2009 the three main features of their forwards game was their flawless lineout, their rolling maul and the explosive ball runner Pierre Spies. None of these featured last night which simply came from the All Blacks getting stuck in and playing with passion.
Despite all this, the win is only the first step in the All Black's campaign to retain their title as best team in the world. Next week the two teams will meet again in Wellington, a game that the Springboks will sure to be up for and will be a much closer encounter.