New Zealand 23 vs South Africa 13

Date: Saturday, September 21

Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

At the end of the day, this game was far closer than the scoreline suggests. 

23-13 is a fair points spread in any contest between these two behemoths of World Rugby, yet the game was very nearly another draw! If Handré Pollard had not missed that simple penalty, and if that final pass to Cheslin Kolbe had been straight to hand and not on his ankles………………….

That is how close this game was to a being another draw!

The game hinged on the small moments.

In my Preview to this game I suggested that recent games between these old enemies hinged on a moment of brilliance or a half-second’s hesitancy by a single player.

It was the small things, the moments, the unforced error, the lapse under the severest of pressure that made the difference between these two teams during the last two years.

And so it was, once again, on Saturday.

The game hinged on mistakes – the first by Duane Vermeulen, when he knocked a high ball, turning over possession that allowed the All Blacks to do what they do better than anyone else in the world – exploit broken play to send George Bridge over for his try just two phases later.

The next try came just three minutes later, when Handré Pollard was the guilty party, also coughing up the ball after a high kick. The ball went to Anton Lienert-Brown who jinked his way past Franco Mostert and Malcolm Marx as the Springbok defence was ripped apart for a brief moment. The try was scored by Scott Barrett.

In a golden period of just 5 minutes the All Blacks, who had been under the cosh all the way, suddenly found themselves with 17 points on the board and an unexpected lead!

And that simply sums up the difference between the two teams. The All Blacks were absolutely ruthless in exploiting the soft moments, and that gave them the game.

The Springboks had their chances. 

None more so that the moment when Cheslin Kolbe was out wide on the overlap and the line open for him, but the pass went to his ankles, slowing him for a half second, which gave the All Blacks that split second respite that allowed them to scramble and prevent a certain try.

Look at this game from another perspective – From the overall view of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and it would surprise no-one if these two team meet again in the final.

The result of this game was always going to be difficult to predict, and the fact that win or lose it did not really matter in terms of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. All that the result determines is who the teams will meet in the quarterfinals and, if form holds true, in the semifinals.

Both teams will have learned much from the game, and both teams are likely to put those lessons into perspective and then assimilate them into their planning for the rest of the tournament.

In the final analysis, the All Blacks deserved their win, but they will know that the Springboks caused them some serious problems. The Springboks will know that they did well to come back into the game from a 17-3 deficit, they “won” the second half 10 -6, but it was the earlier mistakes that cost them the game, and that they were responsible for their own mistakes.

They will also know that both the All Black tries were long-range efforts from turned over ball.

A glance at the match stats tell us that South Africa had 59% of the territorial advantage and 53% of the possession. They also carried the ball further than the All Blacks (372m to 367m) and won more rucks.

Their one problem area was the 35 tackles they missed, of which 23 came in the problematic 20 minutes of that first half when the kicks went astray, the passes did not find their target, and the All Blacks scored their two tries.

Of course, the reaction of the two team fans are highly predictable – the New Zealanders are crowing, while the South Africans have donned sack-cloth and ashes, yet I would suggest that neither set of fans should be reading too much into this game. It was just one step in a long journey.


South Africa

Try: Pieter-Steph du Toit

Conversion: Handré Pollard

Penalty: Pollard

Drop goal: Pollard

New Zealand

Tries: George Bridge, Scott Barrett

Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (2)

Penalties: Mo’unga (2), Beauden Barrett

Individual Player Assessments:

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux 4/10

After an imperious display under the high ball in the warm-up against Japan, Le Roux had a shaky start to the RWC, especially in the first half. (But then so did most of his team mates as the high-ball seemed to elude them.)Some slightly erratic tactical kicking did not help. He improved as the game ticked on, and produced some clever touches and was much safer in the second half. A poor pass to Cheslin Kolbe probably cost the Springboks the game.

14 Cheslin Kolbe 9/10

If he continues the way he started he will be a contender for the 2019 Player of the Tournament! Outstanding on defence, a real handful on attack. Brave under the high ball too. Sheer mongrel in the collisions and big moments. Some wonderful runs with the ball in hand. A great performance.

13 Lukhanyo Am 5/10

Showed guts and determination on defence, although he seemed to struggle with his alignment and found Lienert-Brown a handful to contain, he missed too many tackles. Some skilful moments with the ball in hand, but no real go-forward. Not his best day at the office.

12 Damian de Allende 7/10

Somehow Damian de Allende divides the fans – there are those that appreciate his game and skills and then there are those that do not. I thought he had a good game in the overall analysis, doing exactly what his coach asked of him. He made a couple of very strong, penetrating runs. Taking the ball over the gain line every time and playing straight into the Springbok direct attack system. Each such run gave the Springboks important momentum, yet somehow the detractors do not appreciate this? Perhaps he does need to work on the timing of his offloads and passes, but none went astray in this game where possession was paramount. On defence he was a critical cog in the Springbok system. Consider the effect he had on his opponents – neither Ryan Crotty nor Sonny Bill Williams could produce the magic for which they are known, they were simply shut out by De Allende, time and again. He also brought huge pressure on Richie Mo’unga, forcing the flyhalf to play off the back foot! Add the massive back-tackle on Beauden Barrett and Damian de Allende was perhaps the second best Springbok backline player on the day, after Cheslin Kolbe.

11 Makazole Mapimpi 3/10

Not a day he will want to remember. Got away with a high tackle, and played second fiddle to Sevu Reece most of the time. Vulnerable on defence and zero opportunity on attack. Did not go looking for work either. Perhaps overwhelmed by the occasion? One excellent chase-down on Richie Mo’unga near Bok tryline, but marred by the resultant penalty and was very lucky that he did not see a yellow card in the process. 

10 Handré Pollard 5/10

Not his best game in a Springbok jersey. His cool, calm control of the game was just a little wonky – seemed to struggle to take the ball from his half-backs, overrunning the pass on two occasions, and taking the wrong line on another. His tactical kicking was off, his line kicking just a little less than we are used to. A blow par performance, yet still showed flashes of his ability to control a game.

9 Faf de Klerk 5/10

Some are suggesting that he was awful – but I would suggest that this was more a reflection of the All Black pressure that was brought to bear on the man they fear the most! His box kicks were less effective than they can be, mostly as he was forced to kick under pressure and did not have the split-second that would allow him control and distance. Perhaps he should have changed tactics and tried the grubber around the corner or the chip into midfield, but that was probably not in the game plan to start with. A couple of great breaks from the breakdown. Some great tackling too. However, his passing was less than crisp and more than a little inaccurate at times. Not his best day at the office.

8 Duane Vermeulen 7/10

A big game from the No.8 – his best in a long while. Powerful carries, solid defence, a couple of steals at the breakdown, and superb tackling around the fringes of the rucks. Aaron Smith will have some ice on a couple of bruises! His second half leadership was critical in the Springbok fightback.

7 Pieter-Steph du Toit 6/10

An odd game for the big man – he started a little slowly and seemed just a little clumsy in the opening minutes, but then he started to find his game, getting bigger and bigger as the game progressed. Made some hugely physical hits, and covered a huge amount of ground, as we have come to expect. His hands let him down in a promising attack just before half-time. A great try. A good game, but just a tad short of his best.

6 Siya Kolisi 5/10

Struggled with the pace of the game, and is certainly nowhere near match fitness yet. Did some good things, but just short of his best. Carried well enough, tackled well enough, but without the go-forward we know of his play. Ran out of steam after 50 minutes.   

5 Franco Mostert 8/10

A big shift by the man you hardly ever see. You do not see him because he is stuck right in the middle of the hard stuff! 12 tackles, nine carries and produced a crucial line-out steal. Solid work in the lineouts, and really great work around the fringes and on the clean-out.

4 Eben Etzebeth 7/10

Powerful tackles, and really powerful carrying and leg drives. Good in lineouts, very good in the breakdowns with his clean-outs and rucking over the ball. Superb discipline despite some niggles by a couple of black jerseys testing him.

3 Frans Malherbe 7/10

Another player who divides the fans. Those that know something about the technical aspects of scrummaging and general prop-forward play know that this was a big game by Fans Malherbe. He crunched Joe Moody in the scrums, which is no mean feat! The fact that Moody started to whinge to the referee tells it all. Made some huge tackles in both his first and second stints on the field. His support work in the lineouts is crucial to his jumpers, and his power at the clean-outs is a factor many seem to miss. Some can see why Rassie Erasmus prefers to start with him, others will never understand!

Malcolm Marx: 6/10

Edging up to a 7/10.. Suddenly seems to have found his game. Not quite at his rampaging best, but the signs are there, and that is good news for every Springbok fan! Made no mistakes, his lineouts were pinpoint, and his carrying was stronger than in a long while. If he keeps improving over the next 6 weeks he is going to be a handful!

Steven Kitshoff: 7/10

His game is all about power. A dominant force in the scrums, powerful carrying and powerful tackling. Cannot ask for more from a prop forward.


16 Bongi Mbonambi 5/10 (on for Marx, 60 Minutes)

Just seemed a little overwhelmed by the occasion.

17 Tendai Mtawarira 5/10 (on for Kitshoff, 67 minutes)

A somewhat anonymous appearance. Did his job, scrummed well and with power, but that was about it.

18 Trevor Nyakane (on for Malherbe, 54 minutes)

Not enough time to be rated.

19 Rudolph Snyman 6/10 (on for Etzebeth, 69 minutes)

Not quite as much impact as one would expect from the biggest man on the field. Did his job. Threw one silly no-look pass that lost momentum for his team at a crucial moment.

20 Francois Louw6/10 (on for Kolisi, 50 minutes)

Tackled like a demon, and tried hard to get over the ball at the breakdowns, but was called off the ball by the referee time and again, a puzzling intervention by the man with the whistle! Slowed the All Black ball down superbly.

21 Herschel Jantjies (on for De Klerk, 71 minutes)

Not enough to be rated

22 Frans Steyn

Not used

23 Jesse Kriel 6/10 (On for Am, 54 minutes)

Better than the man he replaced as he brought muscularity to the defence, and carried the ball better too. Went looking for work. 

New Zealand:

15. Beauden Barrett 7/10

Cool and composed at the back, and sucked up the early pressure by South Africa. Added his playmaking role to the game plan with some good, incisive runs and cool distribution under pressure. Had a part to play in George Bridge’s try. Controlled the latter stages of the game well.

14. Sevu Reece 6/10

Give so much room by his opponent, he enjoyed his game with powerful runs, great chasing and some pretty stepping too. A little soft on defence, though.

13. Anton Lienert-Brown 7/10

His best game in an All Black jersey. Great runs, including setting up Scott Barrett’s try. He managed to force his opposite number onto the back foot time and again, and got past him too easily. 

12. Ryan Crotty5/10

The general that controlled the All Black defensive set-up, he tackled well and covered well. But he was ineffectual with the ball in hand as he was shut down by De Allende time and again. An efficient game.

11. George Bridge 5/10

Had his hands full with Cheslin Kolbe, and was also kept in check by the diminutive Springbok. His try gave the All Blacks some scoreboard space. Strong in the air and solid on defence.  

10. Richie Mo’unga 6/10

Struggled to come to terms with the Springbok defence and was often forced to play laterally or off the back foot. Improved in the 20-minute wobbly period by the Springboks, but then settled into playing deeper and wider to try and create some space and time. A couple of clever moments, especially his kick passes. His defence is not his greatest strength.

9. Aaron Smith 7/10

Put Faf de Klerk under some serious pressure, but struggled with his own accuracy and distribution. Found some form later in the game and started to bring better tempo and accuracy. His support play was excellent.

1. Joe Moody 4/10

Edged by Frans Malherbe in the scrums, he seemed to vanish outside the set-pieces. Made a couple of tackles.

2. Dane Coles 4/10

Not his best day in an All Black jersey. Lost one of his three lineouts thrown, and was very wobbly with another. Made zero impact in the loose, and struggled in the scrums. 

3. Nepo Laulala 5/10

Struggled to contain Steven Kitshoff in the scrums, although he can be satisfied that he was not completely blown out of the water. Worked hard in the loose.

4. Sam Whitelock 5/10

Not his best day at the office. Struggled in the lineouts, and did not impose himself in the loose as he usually does. Drifted away from his defensive slot which left the door open for P-S du Toit’s try. 

5.Scott Barrett 7/10

A physical, powerful game from the youngster. Made some big carries, and some big man-stopping tackles too.  Some great support running too, which earned him his try. A good day at the office.

6.  Ardie Savea 9/10

My Man-of-the-Match.He was everywhere, all day. Making tackles, forcing turnovers, chasing the ball, chasing the man, carrying the ball. His footwork and leg drive is unbelievable, and his swivelling in the tackle makes him very difficult to grasp. Showed his versatility by playing openside, and then 8 at the scrum, and finally blindside as the team needed. Impressive game.

7. Sam Cane 7/10

Integral to containing the Springboks in their first 20-minute surge. He tackled like a man possessed. Huge contribution at the breakdown, delivering quick ball where possible for his side. A knock on the head might cause him to sit out a couple of games.

8. Kieran Read 7/10

He gets a 9 for leadership, but only a 5 for his general play. He seems to have lost more than a yard of his pace and his mobility is way below the standards he set himself. However, it was his leadership that was pivotal for New Zealand early on when they were under serious pressure from South Africa. He led the defensive line with serious focus and intent, and tackled like a demon. Will he make it all the way through the RWC?


16. Codie Taylor 6/10

Better than the man he replaced. The lineouts steadied the moment he took over the throwing, although he still lost one. Carried hard and tackled well. 

17. Ofa Tuungafasi 5/10

Struggled under the real pressure from Frans Malherbe when he first arrived on the pitch, settled a bit after Malherbe had to return to replace Nyakane, but never got the edge over his opponent. Carried well, and tackled well. 

18.Angus Ta’avao 5/10

Could not handle Kitshoff and then struggled against the power of Tendai Mtawarira. Anonymous for the rest of his time on the field

19.Patrick Tuipulotu 7/10

Added some real physicality when he was brought on to add power to the creaking scrum, with Barrett moving to the flank. Did his job in the lineouts and tackled well. 

20. Shannon Frizell – n/a

Not enough time to be rated. 

21.TJ Perenara 6/10

Brought something different with his probing kicks and up-tempo game. Tested the Springbok defence at times, and made some good tackles.

22. Sonny Bill Williams 6/10

Tried to inject some physicality into the confrontation with De Allende, but was quickly and efficiently shut down. Brought some fresh energy to the defence and worked hard at the breakdowns. 

23. Ben Smith 7/10

Too late to make a real difference, he brought his usual urgency and line-busting runs – has an uncanny ability to get through the first tackle. Made a couple of decent breaks and tackled well.