2018 Rugby Championships

South Africa 30 vs New Zealand 32

Saturday, October 6

Venue: Loftus Versveld Stadium, Pretoria.

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)

Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Matthew Carley (England)

Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)

If ever there was a game that illustrated the best of what Test Match rugby is all about, it was this one.

This was a game that kept the fan, the spectator; whether the idle watcher, or the wholly committed supporter, glued to their seat from the first whistle right through to the last. It was a game with everything that is good in rugby, and very little of what is bad. So many rugby matches deteriorate into a static arm wrestling match with teams slugging out an 80 minute bore-fest. This was nothing of the sort.

For the 31 minutes that the ball was in play, the pace of the game, the tension on the field, the focus, and the physicality of the confrontation was absolutely absorbing. The intensity of the Springboks, the maturity of the All Blacks, the concentration and focus of both teams, the desire and desperation, the total commitment. It was enthralling stuff.

It was Test Match Rugby, the way it should always be played.

The final result might be disappointing for the Springbok players and their supporters, but the entire game should be seen as a triumph for the youngsters who are the current Springboks. The All Black 23-man match day squad boasted 987 caps between them, and they will tell you that they were fielding a lot of rookies! The Springboks had just 671 between them, with 239 of those caps held by just 3 players. Beast Mtawarira with 106, Eben Etzebeth with 72, and Francoise Louw with 61.

Faf de Klerk with just 19 caps was up against Aaron Smith 79 caps, Handré Pollard has just 34 caps, facing the 69 of Beauden Barrett.

I could go on and list every player and the number of caps, but it is perhaps most illustrative to just tell of Embrose Papier sitting on the bench aged just 21, with 3 caps to his name, all earned as a late-in-the-game substitute. Or the 24 year old Cheslin Kolbe, with just 3 caps, or Aphiwe Dyantyi with 8 caps at the age of 24. Damian Willemse, aged just 20 with 2 caps to his name.

Handré Pollard and his two midfielders, De Allende and Kriel, are all three just 24 years old.

These are the youngsters thrown into the fray against the world champion All Blacks.

These youngsters, together with the rest of their team mates, are the ones who can and should be very proud of the effort they produced in this Test match in Pretoria.

Yes, they lost the game. That is a fact that cannot and will not be eradicated from their memories, nor the memories of those who watched the game. Yet this is a loss that will provide the Springboks with a very solid foundation on which to build for the future.

This loss provides those players with the one thing nobody can buy. Experience.

The All Blacks are the most successful rugby team in history. They have the most professional and focussed development structures and processes in all of rugby. For a country with just 148 000 registered rugby players they punch way way above their weight in the world game. They have perfected the art of blending youngsters into their national squad, introducing them to the squad structures and systems for a long apprenticeship before they are allowed to wear the famous black jersey on a rugby field. Even then they’re introduced piecemeal, given a run off the substitutes bench, unleashed against lesser opponents, and carefully nurtured until they are ready for the big time against some of the tier one teams.

The gradual blending of youth and experience is critical to their entire game, and it is where they find the maturity to produce a comeback such as the one we saw at Loftus Versveld against South Africa. This comeback was about character, quality, maturity, leadership, and experience.

During the whole of 2018, and in previous years, the All Blacks have become famous for their second half surge. They have the skills, the ability and technical expertise to step up a gear or two. They also have the confidence that comes from winning regularly. They know and trust themselves, and they know how to take a game right to the end, and how to win when it looks as if the game is lost.

And that was the huge difference between the Springboks and the All Blacks. When the final ten minutes ticked onto the stadium clock, it was the All Blacks that were able to step up a gear and the Springboks that lost their composure and focus in their frantic efforts to shut out the game.

This was a game that saw the Springboks once again produce the physicality and focus that snuffed out the dangerous All Black attack for most of the game. This was a game in which the youngsters showed their mongrel, their desire to win, and their focus and concertation.

Yet it was also a game that they lost because of a lack of composure, and a lack of discipline in those final ten minutes produced the soft moments that allowed the All Blacks back into the game.  At the moment when a more experienced head would have taken a deep breath and focussed on playing low risk percentage rugby to shut the game out, the Springboks seemed to lose all shape and focus.

With just on 6 minutes left on the clock, somehow Pieter-Steph du Toit and Bongi Mbonambi lifted an All Black off his feet in the tackle and were penalised, a silly moment allowing the All Blacks to kick for a lineout on the Springbok 5m line. They kept the ball close, going through 13 phases before Scott Barrett managed to crash over and make it a 5-point game.

A moment of silly indiscipline, and the All Blacks were back in the game.

Another was to follow.

The All Blacks returned the kick-off straight back downfield. It was up to the Springboks to shut out the game by retaining possession for just three and a half minutes. Simple disciplines, and percentage rugby, for just 3 and a half minutes.

It was not to be. In the very first phase RG Snyman let go a silly pass to no one. Hearts stopped as Handré Pollard had to scramble to clean up and then take the ball into contact.

When the ball emerged from the very next phase, replacement halfback Embrose Papier tried to run from the base all by himself. It was another silly, inexperienced decision. It was a Currie Cup moment, not a Test rugby moment.

The game was slipping away as the Springboks became rattled and desperate.

Where was the kick to the corner? Where was the pod of forwards to grind the ball into the dirt?

And then the critical moment, with possession and the clock ticking towards the final two minutes, Vincent Koch took the ball into contact. Nothing wrong with that, but there was plenty wrong with his support, all three of RG Snyman, Pieter-Steph du Toit, and Siya Kolisi joined the ruck, but did not seal off the ball or clear out Ardie Savea who was desperately trying to get hands on the ball.

Angus Gardener’s arm went skywards. Penalty for not releasing the ball!

Richie Mo’unga hoofed the ball all of 65 metres, with both Damien Willemse and Cheslin Kolbe out of position when the ball first bounced infield, before trickling out and into touch for the All Black’s last throw of the dice, a lineout five meters out.

And that was it. Ardie Savea scored, Mo’unga converted, and Springbok hearts were broken.

On such small things, that critical lack of composure, that moment of indiscipline, that half-second out of position, was the final result predicated.

When the dust settles, and the emotions have calmed down the Springboks will have learned a valuable lesson about how to win games. The experience of this loss will stand them in good stead in the years ahead.

As we sit and think about the Rugby Championships and the teams involved, we can rightly say that it is the Springboks that have shown the most improvement as the season has ticked away. They have shown that they can learn from their mistakes, they have shown that they have the mongrel and grit to grind out a game in the most desperate of circumstances. The have grown in confidence with every game.

They are rebuilding Springbok rugby from a sub-zero base, from the disastrous times under Allister Coetzee and the Dad’s Army years under Henyeke Meyer that left South African rugby devoid of experienced players.

They are slowly, surely restoring Springbok rugby.

Most pleasing of all, they have shown the intense pride that comes with wearing the Springbok jersey.

Critically too, I believe that their coaching and management squad will have learned many valuable lessons from this game and the season. The use of substitutes and the timing of their deployment would be something Rassie Erasmus and his fellow coaches will be sure to think about carefully. Mistakes were made, to be sure. But if those mistakes provide for learning experience, then they are acceptable.

As a final thought, I would point at the following:

Clive Woodward was given eight years to build an England team that could, and did, win a Rugby World Cup.

Steve Hansen has been with the All Blacks since 2004, as Assistant Coach until 2012 when he was appointed to the top job. He had two years with Wales before he joined the All Black coaching squad in 2004.

Rassie Erasmus had a short time, back in 2007, as one of the Technical Advisors to Jake White, and another period in 2011 in the same advisory capacity to Pieter de Villiers. Neither of these roles were as a coach.

He was appointed Head Coach of the Springboks on the 1st March 2018. He has had control of the Springbok coaching job for just 7 months.

The development of the Springbok squad under his tutelage has been quite remarkable. He too will develop as a coach and a rugby brain.

The future of Springbok Rugby is looking good.

Individual Player Assessment:

SOUTH AFRICA

15 Willie le Roux: 7/10
One of his best in a Springbok jersey. Huge influence throughout the game. Brave under the high ball, and solid too. Made 3 good tackles, missed none. Great tackle on Ioane that led to a penalty and a 3-pointer by Pollard. Carried the ball 8 times for a total of 61 meters, including the linebreak that lead to the 1st Springbok try by Kriel. 15 good passes. His pass gave Cheslin Kolbe the chance to score his try. Kicked with accuracy and fluency, 3 kicks for 91 meters. Very good on the kick-chase, seeming to read Faf de Klerk’s kicks before they were executed. His departure after failing a Head Injury Assessment at 65 minutes was a factor in the eventual Springbok loss.

14 Cheslin Kolbe: 6/10
Not too many opportunities, but a brave performance with strength and determination in the tackle. Made 8 tackles, missed 1. One tackle very dominant. Great determination to somehow wriggle over for his try. Carried the ball 5 times for a total of 26 meters. His lack of weight counted against him in the rucks when he was easily cleaned out by the heavier All Blacks. Overall, a fair day at the office.

13 Jesse Kriel: 7/10
Had a couple of his old “sideways” moments when he went laterally with the ball, but the rest of his game was as solid as it could be. One of his better games in the Springbok jersey. Carried the ball 7 times for a total of 99 meters, with 2 linebreaks, one of which gave him his try. A great turnover that won a penalty at the breakdown. Made 3 tackles and missed none.

12 Damian de Allende: 7/10
Brought some enterprise and pressure to the Springbok midfield attack, overshadowing the great Sonny Bill Williams in their head-to-head confrontation.  Carried the ball strongly. 13 times to make 118 meters. Brought some penetration to the midfield too, with two very good tackle breaks and another linebreak. Crabbed across the field once or twice, but mostly his running was direct and straight. Ran a superb support line for his try.  A solid midfield base for the Springboks to attack from when he sets up the second phase. Made 8 tackles and missed 2.

11 Aphiwe Dyantyi: 5/10
Probably his weakest performance in the Springbok jersey. He seemed very nervous, almost overwhelmed at times despite the wide smiles, once protesting vociferously when the ball went forward off an arm after a kick chase. It was obvious that the All Blacks were targeting him, and he missed 3 tackles without making any. Conceded three turnovers. Carried the ball 3 times for 23 meters, and very nearly made a second try for De Allende, but put a foot on the line in the process. If the pass had been a nano-second earlier….. Fortunate that he was not shown the yellow card after what seemed to be an intentional knockdown in the 70th minute. A second such incident in two weeks, he needs to be careful about going for the intercept!

10 Handré Pollard: 7/10
Has undoubtedly established himself as the top flyhalf in the country. His tactical nous and game management was intelligent and accurate. His organisation of the defence was  superb, again. Carried the ball 4 times, making 32 meters in the process. Made 19 good passes, 5 tackles, one of which was clearly dominant, although he missed one. Some flawless goal-kicking, including a 55 and then a 57-metre penalty.

9 Francois de Klerk: 8/10
The value of this man cannot be understated. He overshadowed and out-bustled and muscled the highly rated Aaron Smith! Making 60 passes, he kept the Springbok attack flowing all afternoon with crisp, accurate service. One wayward pass into the TV cameraman that should have gone to Kitshoff. Vast improvement in his box-kicking, kicking the ball 10 times for 267 meters, although one went too far and allowed Barrett to counter-attack, eventually leading to Aaron Smith’s try. Carried the ball 5 times, for 15 meters, crossed the gain line every time. Missed 1 tackle, but made 3 good ones. His departure with cramping muscles was a factor in the Springbok loss.

8 Francois Louw: 5/10
Sadly, playing at 8 is a waste of Francois Louw’s abilities and nous. He carried the ball strongly, with 9 carries for 48 meters, but he was no factor over the ball, which is his strength when playing on the flank. He made no turnovers in this Test. Conceded crucial penalties at inopportune moments. Made 4 tackles, but missed 2.

7 Pieter-Steph du Toit: 8/10
An invaluable member of this Springbok team! He put in yet another massive performance, with or without the ball. His physicality and determination knew no boundaries. His stats are impressive, carrying the ball 10 times for 55 meters, with 1 linebreak and 2 tacklebreaks, also making 8 tackles and missing none. Used 3 times in the lineout, he took all three throws cleanly. Powerful in the mauls. One run that stands out is when he left Sonny Bill Williams floundering in his wake, almost scoring in the process. Has to be the best Springbok of the 2018 Rugby Championships campaign.

6 Siya Kolisi: 7/10
A good shift for the captain, both as captain and as flanker. A great break to offload for De Allende’s try. Not sure why he kicked the ball when the Springboks were on the front foot? Made 10 carries for 56 meters, 16 tackles, missing just one. Great linking play too, with 6 good passes. Took one lineout too.

5 Franco Mostert: 6/10
Yet another physical and focussed performance by the man in the engine room of the team. Made 6 big tackles and missed none. Took 4 lineouts, and stole another. Made 6 carries for 26 meters, but the stats do not tell of the effort he put in as a support player, with massive cleanouts and huge driving support onto ball carriers. A solid day’s work.

4 Eben Etzebeth: 7/10
Someone suggested that his substitution in the 63rd minute was the definitive moment that allowed the All Blacks back into the game. His physical presence in the hard stuff was enormous, overshadowing all the other lock forwards in both teams. When he went off, it seemed as of some of the power and presence had been lost in the Bok pack. Carried the ball 11 times for 43 meters, made 4 smashing tackles, took 2 of 3 lineouts called at the front, one was spoiled by a hand that got in the way, also stole a good one. Gave away three penalties, one of which was a little silly as he entered the ruck from the side.

3 Frans Malherbe: 5/10
A quiet day, mostly ensuring that Karl Tu’inukuafe did not achieve any sort of dominance in the scrums as so many had expected. Solid in the scrums, not much else to report on. Made 2 tackles, made two good passes, some great cleanouts. Did nothing wrong, just played a prop-forward’s usual game. A good day at the office.

2 Malcolm Marx: 8/10
Another huge performance by the youngster. 8 massive carries, for 34 meters, and 6 big tackles, though he missed 1. Two very good turnovers. Lineouts were pinpoint accurate, lineout steals by the All Blacks were mostly the fault of the jumpers not getting proper control on the take. Good, solid scrummaging. His presence at the contact area was enormous, and his departure with 7 minutes left on the clock was another factor in the Springbok loss.

1 Steven Kitshoff: 7/10
The tussle between Owen Franks and Kitshoff was one of the intriguing mini-battles within the overall game. Once or twice it looked as if the All Blacks were gaining an edge in a scrum, only for the big fellow to muscle up and stand firm.  Minor victory for Kitshoff when Franks was substituted in the 46th minute, fairly early in proceedings for such a change. Carried the ball 6 times for 31 meters, made 3 good tackles, missed none.

Replacements:

16 Bongi Mbonambi (on for Marx, 73rd min):
I have no idea why he was sent on. Not enough time to be rated.

17 Tendai Mtawarira (on for Kitshoff, 74th min):
I, again, have no idea why he was sent on. Not enough time to be rated.

18 Vincent Koch 5/10 (on for Malherbe, 60th min):
Solid in the scrums and made his tackles. Should have been given the turnover penalty when he had possession over the ball on the Bok line, but was ignored by the referee. Carried the ball 3 times and made all three of his tackles.

19 Rudolph Snyman 4/10 (on for Etzebeth, 63rd min):
Not quite sure why he was sent on! Added nothing to the Springbok effort, making one lineout catch and carrying the ball just twice. Lucky not to be penalised for a dive over the ball on the ground. Threw a speculative and inexplicably silly pass in those last frantic moments. Certainly not of the same physicality and presence of the man he replaced.

20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe (on for Louw, 70th min):
Not enough time to be rated.

21 Embrose Papier (on for De Klerk, 73rd min):
Not enough time to be rated, with 1 pass, 2 tackles, and one short but very silly dart with the ball in hand.

22 Elton Jantjies (on for De Allende, 78th min):
Maybe you can tell me why he was sent on? I do not know. Not enough time to be rated.

23 Damian Willemse 5/10 (on for Le Roux, 67th min):
Did nothing wrong after coming on, but did not have the same influence as the man he replaced.  Carried the ball for 16m in his two runs, with one great step and go to cut past Ryan Crotty. Safe enough under the high-ball, and made his one and only tackle.

NEW ZEALAND

Ben Smith: 5/10

A somewhat quiet performance, was given no space or chance with the ball in hand. Made all six of his tackle attempts. Good under the high-ball, and then went to the wing in the 51st minute as Barrett dropped to 15 to allow Mo’unga time at flyhalf.

Waisake Naholo: 5/10

Probably the quietest game I have seen him play for the All blacks. Given no space to move he spent the day keeping an eye of Dyantyi. Four good tackles, including a crucial one on Dyantyi . Carried the ball just once, for all of 3 meters. Won a turnover.

Ryan Crotty: 5/10

Some good defence, but was outplayed by Kriel in the outside centre clash. Made 14 tackles as he spent the afternoon stopping Springbok attacks. Suckered by Damian Willemse’s stepping, and slipped off Jesse Kriel for the 1st try. Better when he moved back to 12 when SBW was subbed.

Sonny Bill Williams: 4/10

For once the big man was outplayed by his opposite number. Forced to make 9 tackles, he was given no room or time to produce his usually penetrative running and sublime offloading. No runs, no offloads. Subbed after 60 minutes.

Rieko Ioane: 6/10

Hardly saw the ball in the first 40 minutes, and when he did, around the 46 minute mark he was pinged for not releasing. Scored his 21st try in 20 Tests with an easy run in when his opponent tackled inwards and left the back door wide open. However, he couldn’t stop Cheslin Kolbe’s try close to the line either.

Beauden Barrett: 5/10

Was not given an inch of room by the Springboks, effectively forcing him into hurried passes and inaccurate tactical kicks. Overcooked a cross kick for Rieko Ioane and missed a touch-finder. Showed enormous pace in a race with Aphiwe Dyantyi to prevent a try. Great wide ball for Rieko Ioane’s try. Silly long pass to the same Ioane in the 66th minute went forward, bringing pressure onto the All Black line. Probably his most anonymous game in an All Black jersey.

Aaron Smith: 7/10

The tussle with Faf de Klerk was one of the highlights of this Test. At times Smith was out-played by De Klerk, who hustled him into uncharacteristic errors. Mostly his service was solid, if not sparkling. Ran a great support line to score his try. Subbed on the 70-minute mark.

Kieran Read: 7/10

10 tackles and a turnover, and had a ball stolen by Marx in the early part of the second half. Was forced to play in closer than he likes by the physicality of the Springbok game, so there were very few opportunities to carry the ball out wide. However, his cool, calm captaincy was key to the All Black comeback! Penalised a couple of times.

Sam Cane: 7/10

A short game for the silent assassin, injury subbed in the 35th minute. Made seven tackles and won 2 turnovers before being replaced

Shannon Frizell: 6/10

One of the rising stars of the All Black outfit, he struggled in the intensity of this game, being forced to tackle 12 times, but given no opportunity to make his trademark carries with the ball in hand. Pinged for not releasing close to line. Replaced in 46th minute as Patrick Tuipulotu went on to add power to the tight five, and Scott Barrett moved to side of scrum.

Scott Barrett: 8/10

The best of the All Black forwards. Scored a late try that gave the All Blacks the momentum to carry on and win the game. Bustling physicality, and wide roaming defence. A very good lineout steal just after the halftime break. Switched from lock to blindside flank just after halftime. Made 12 tackles without a miss.

Sam Whitelock: 7/10

Sometimes invisible in the melee that is the underworld of forward play, which is an indication that he was doing his job! Some good carries. Ten tackles. Solid without the spectacular. A good day at the office.

Owen Franks: 5/10

The scrum tussle with Kitshoff was intriguing, held his own, but eventually outlasted by the big Springbok. Made eight tackles, missed two. Didn’t touch the ball. Subbed after 46 minutes.

Codie Taylor: 7/10

Made the burst and run that set up Aaron Smith’s try and sparked the All Black comeback. Slightly overshadowed by his opponent Marx in most areas of the game. Made his 11 tackles and missed none. One linebreak, carrying the ball 3 times for 34 meters.

Karl Tu’inukuafe: 5/10

Expected much more from him after his powerhouse display in previous games, but was kept quiet by Malherbe, subbed early on, in the 46th minute. Solid, but nothing else to report.

Replacements

16 Nathan Harris: 5/10

On in 70th minute. Blew a vital lineout throw a minute later, chucking it too far and over Sam Whitelock’s head. Nothing else to mention.

17 Tim Perry: 5/10

On in the 46th  minute. Struggled a bit in the scrums. Missed vital tackle on Siya Kolisi that led to try by Damian de Allende. Went off for HIA in 70th minute, back in 78th minute.

18 Ofa Tuungafasi 6/10

Strong in the scrums, but without achieving dominance. Grabbed a turnover from a ruck in the 69th minute.

19 Patrick Tuipulotu 6/10

Came on in the 46th minute to add power and weight to the forward effort. Worked hard for a good solid shift. A pass that went astray the only blemish.

20 Ardie Savea: 8/10

The day cannot be far off when Savea is considered as an automatic starting choice. On in the 35th minute for Sam Cane, he was at the spear-tip of the All Black defence from that moment onwards, making 6 tackles, but mostly as a hinderance to Springbok play, if not as a tackler. Scored the vital try from a pick and go in the 79th minute to level the scores.

21 TJ Perenara: 7/10

On in 70th minute, he seemed more focussed and quicker to the ball than Aaron Smith had been, bringing critical energy to the All Black’s surge in the last 10 minutes.

22 Richie Mo’unga: 7/10

Brought some new sparkle to the All Black attack when he arrived in the 51st minute. Nothing spectacular, and an inaccurate moment just after his arrival, after that he was as steady as it can be.

23 Anton Lienert-Brown: 6/10

Went on to replace SBW but shifting to the outside centre berth. A Solid afternoon, without anything spectacular.

The scorers:

For South Africa:
Tries: Kriel, De Allende, Kolbe
Cons: Pollard 3
Pens: Pollard 3

For New Zealand:
Tries: A Smith, Ioane, S Barrett, Savea
Cons: Mo’unga 3
Pens: B Barrett 2

The Teams

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown