Brave Boks took a beating

The Springboks performance wasn’t quite as grand when you watch the tape for the second time. The All Blacks won the last hour 31-12 at Ellis Park. They came to our spiritual home and smashed us. That’s the cold reality of Saturday.

I can assure you if the All Blacks had scored four tries at Eden Park against the Springboks and conceded five tries and 38 points there wouldn’t be a celebration in New Zealand this morning. That is why they have been No 1 for the past four years and we have been in the chasing pack.

South African supporters on the social media networks took comfort in the Boks’ attacking game. The talk was of a new age and of a new generation of player. It was all emotionally charged nonsense.

The match was a spectacle for the neutral. It was a wonderful game, played at pace and played with positive intent. Both sides wanted to score tries. Both sides wanted to maximize the ideal playing conditions. Both sides wanted to make a statement, but try as we may in this country to convince ourselves of South Africa’s part in the try-fest extravaganza, the only statement made on the day came from the All Blacks.

Consider this: The Boks, since the Eden Park defeat, have been based in South Africa. The All Blacks flew to Buenos Aires and scored a bonus point try win against the Pumas. They arrived in Johannesburg on Monday morning to play a Test at South African rugby’s spiritual home.

Ellis Park is a stadium that has spooked some of the great All Black players and some of the finest All Black teams to play there.

Inspirational All Blacks captain Richie McCaw had not played in a month and he had defied medical opinion to be named in the starting line-up.

But McCaw lasted 80 minutes and was as strong at the finish as he was at the start. The All Blacks recovered from a 15-7 deficit to win 38-27, and they were a pass away from making that 45-27 when referee Nigel Owens blew time on what many believe will be remembered as one of the great free-flowing contests between these two teams.

We talk about the Boks’ four tries. The All Blacks scored five tries and could have had seven. They only had one kickable penalty at posts, which they converted to three points, and they played 20 minutes with 14 men.

They were second all night at the scrum but in another class in every other aspect of play.

Again too much comfort is being taken from the nonsense that the Boks conceded soft tries. Why is it that the All Blacks tries were soft but the Boks’ tries were an example of great attacking back play?

I guess it depends which glasses one wears, but there was nothing soft about Kieran Read’s handoff on Willem Alberts and brilliant offload to Ben Smith for New Zealand’s first try; just like there was nothing soft about Duane Vermeulen beating a prop for pace to set up Bryan Habana’s first try. Equally there was nothing soft about Francois Louw’s offload in the tackle to put Habana away for his second try. There was also nothing soft about the way the All Blacks worked the ball through the hands after the first half siren to break down the Bok defence and score the try of the match.

What was soft about Read scoring another special effort with his team down to 14 men?

Let’s forget the supposed softness of tries and focus on the hard reality of this Test.

These men in black came to our spiritual home and smashed us. They scored a record 38 winning points and scored five tries against us. They finished the stronger of the two sides, they looked the more conditioned and they won despite losing two men for 20 minutes and losing the penalty count.

They did it in front of 63 888, at altitude and at a ground at which they had only won three times in their history.

They also did it with a back three playing together internationally in their first season, two kids at flyhalf, a scrumhalf in his second season of Test rugby, a second choice tighthead prop, a 36 year old hooker, a very ordinary replacement hooker and a lock in his first season as the international Test starter.

They did it with a team showing eight changes to the starting XV that won the World Cup final in 2011.

They did it thanks to as many kids as there were grizzled veterans.

We can live the illusion that this was a special Bok performance but it wasn’t quite as grand when you watch the tape for the second time.

The Boks were second at the breakdown, second in the collisions, second in getting the basics right, second in the decision-making and second in everything bar the scrums.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, with his tactical substitutions, also came second.

The Boks, in attack, took one step forward in the way they utilized width. In everything else they took two steps backwards.

If you watched the match live or were at the game you’ll dispute this assessment. If you watched the tape again you’ll realize that the flamboyance on attack merely masked the brutality of the beating.