Brave the Boks were, but victorious they were never going to be as Dan Carter kicked the fight out of South Africa in Wellington.
Carter kicked nine from nine, set up both New Zealand’s tries and even gifted the Boks their opening try to dominate a match that had intensity and grind but offered little as a spectacle.
The Boks will claim a moral victory in denying the All Blacks a bonus-point win. Jake White and his helpers will talk up the improvement from last week. White will lament Percy Montgomery’s missed penalty kicks and what could have been. It all sums up just how low the Boks have sunk in the last month.
Listening to the New Zealand commentators was enough to make you puke if you were South African. As New Zealand recovered from a 15-second charge down try to score 25 unanswered points, all the talk was of a brave and passionate Bok team. I guess we’re back to those days again when Murray Mexted is pleading for a Bok try to put some respectability to the score.
The game was long lost at 25-7 and despite a 10-point burst in the space of three minutes, the All Blacks struck back immediately with their own 10 pointer and finished the match going for another seven pointer. Pre-match predictions had been of a 20-point win amid stoic Bok defence from 15 visitors playing for redemption after the 49-0 shutout in Brisbane. The script was true to the pre-match build-up.
The illusion in South Africa will be one of improvement following Brisbane. But take the Brisbane match and kick it into touch. It was a freak result. Then put today’s performance into context and it was not particularly encouraging.
The All Blacks, having made eight changes, controlled a game they started seven points behind after Carter’s first kick of the night was charged down on 15 seconds. The Boks, as they have done for the past few seasons, troubled the All Blacks in the lineouts and with a rush defence that was frantic without being systematic. We’ve seen this kind of movie so many times in the last decade. Brave Boks versus classy All Blacks. And invariably the winner is New Zealand by a comfortable margin.
Carter’s kicking was magnificent as he winded the Boks every time they showed a disregard for the tackle law at the breakdown. The Boks, powered by passion and little else, were careless at the breakdown, lacked patience on the All Blacks recycle and instead of backing their defence against phase play, handed out early Christmas gifts to Carter.
The All Blacks also made the game more of a contest by playing Sam Tuitoupo at inside centre. He is the kind of player the Boks love defending against. Tuitoupo offers no variation to the All Blacks attack. It’s a case of head down and charge. Matt Giteau’s step and Aaron Mauger’s subtle touches trouble the Bok defence far more.
Carter, though, remains the world’s best player and his calmness proved a major advantage in dictating the flow and outcome of the test.
The All Blacks, ahead 25-7 on the hour, should have closed out the game with more ease, but coach Graham Henry will take comfort from the fact that he rested Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodock, Jerry Collins, Byron Keller, Mauger, Rico Gear and Joe Rokocoko and still clobbered the Boks by 18 points. This was a tune up for next week’s visit to Brisbane where the Wallabies have not been beaten since 1996.
The Bok coach will be pleased with Butch James’s display, which also made a mockery of the sentiment Luke Watson could not be flown over and exposed to test rugby. James is a good enough player to slot into this type of situation and so is Watson. Solly Tyibilika, enthusiastic and courageous, does not have the open-side game to match his good intentions. He does very little constructive foraging or slowing down of the ball. He has to be replaced if the Boks are to be a factor at the breakdown.
Eddie Andrews again showed his vulnerability against a good scrum. Having replaced Os du Randt briefly, he failed to deal with Carl Hayman and New Zealand twice turned over the Bok scrum while Andrews was on. Du Randt returned to add stability, if never dominance.
The Boks, fearless in the tackle, played for pride and this will be acknowledged in Wellington. They were never going to win and that’s an indictment of the strength of the current squad. Forget how the Boks will go against the All Blacks and Australia in South Africa in a month’s time.
The World Cup is to be played away from South Africa and in the last two and a half years the Boks — on the road — have won one in nine matches against the world’s big four.
The fact that New Zealanders were paying tribute to a Bok team that lost by eighteen points is the most damning statement of how much ground the Boks have lost in the last year.
In 2004 and 2005 New Zealand lost in South Africa and beat the Boks in the last few minutes in New Zealand. Now we’re expected to applaud an 18 point defeat?
Tries – Piri Weepu and Richie McCaw
Convesions – Dan Carter (2)
Penalties – Carter (7)
Tries - Fourie du Preez and Breyton Paulse
Conversions – Percy Montgomery (2)
Penalty - Montgomery