Ordinary ABs let off the hook

The Boks should have won by a far bigger margin in Bloemfontein, writes Keo in his weekly Business Day newspaper column.

There was a time not too long ago when a one-point Springbok win against the All Blacks was huge, so griping about a nine-point advantage may seem strange when SA have given the New Zealanders a good hiding.

Let’s not kid ourselves. This is the best team SA has assembled in a decade and the worst New Zealand has sent here in the guise of the All Blacks. The visitors should have been pumped. The difference in class and ability was 20 points to the Boks and so it seemed for 40 minutes as SA enjoyed a possession advantage unlike anything we saw in the British & Irish Lions series win.

That it needed the incompetence of All Blacks scrumhalf Piri Weepu’s passing to secure the victory in the 74th minute of Saturday’s Bloemfontein battle means we will have a contest in Durban in six days when the two teams meet again, and any South African defeat at home will seriously challenge any aspirations of a third Tri-Nations title.

Away victories define the Tri Nations and this limited bunch of Kiwis may yet return home travelling first class when their collective ability is best suited to cargo or cattle class.

You have to win your home games to be in a position to win this tournament, so there can be no premature celebration in the context of Saturday’s 28-19 victory. It was a good win because SA deserved the victory and denied the Kiwis a bonus point, but this was not an exceptional performance and this was not an exceptional All Blacks team.

To accept this victory out of context is to insult the ability of the Springboks. When last have we seen a Springbok side so in control of a match against the men in black? And why did it need the limitations of Weepu at scrumhalf to determine SA’s victory?

SA should have won by 20 points. Their scrum, lineout and attack were superior to New Zealand’s, but when Weepu tried to orchestrate an All Blacks match-winning advantage in the 74th minute he embarrassed himself with his inability to pass and gifted SA a five-point breakaway try.

Weepu may lead a fine haka, but he wouldn’t make a club side in this country, let alone a provincial starting XV, and when the All Blacks look to him for inspiration you know they have greater problems than the exchange rate.

Defensive pride and some ill-fortune in Ruan Pienaar’s goal-kicking, when he hit the post twice in his first three attempts, meant the All Blacks turned halves only 11 points down, but the momentum of the game was such that the Springboks should have experienced a record home win against the All Blacks.

This is an ordinary All Blacks team, in which the only consistencies are the frown of All Blacks coach Graham Henry and their lineout atrocities.

With regard to the latter, Springbok lock maestro Victor Matfield was colossal, but it was from the scrum attack that No8 Pierre Spies was imposing. In the British & Irish Lion series, Spies was more a passenger than a strike option, but against the All Blacks he was impressive.

It was his pick-up from the base of the scrum, drive and charge that set up Pienaar’s first-half try and it was his kick through of Weepu’s horror pass and All Blacks lock Jason Eaton’s subsequent fumble that led to Jaque Fourie sealing the Springboks’ first win in three attempts against the All Blacks in Bloemfontein.

South Africans celebrated their first win against the All Blacks in this country since 2006, but please enough of this nonsense that the best team in the world has been toppled. The best team in the world won. New Zealand are not the best team and South Africans, most notably Trevor Manuel, need to lose this misguided belief that all that wears black defines our rugby identity.

The All Blacks were inferior in every aspect of the game and the mystery is that on 74 minutes they were a try away from being victorious. This says more about SA’s second half performance than it does the All Blacks, because the dominant host should never have been a score away from imploding.

Take any win against the All Blacks because they have traditionally set the standard, but this year take it with a pinch of salt because the Boks are so much better and should be expected to bury these guys and not merely inflict some grievous bodily harm.