The Springboks’ bench players in 2017 are among the team’s biggest improvements, whereas it is an area in which the All Blacks have regressed.
Jean-Luc du Preez, Pieter-Stef du Toit and Steven Kitshoff, in particular, make up a trio of three of the best in the business.
The Springboks in 2016 were poor in the last quarter of most Test matches. They were often outscored in this period and the players appeared to lack conditioning. The bench never provided an impact.
Not so New Zealand in 2016.
The All Blacks, in particular, crushed South African spirits with a dominant last quarter against the Springboks in both Test matches in 2016. The combined score against the Springboks was 98 points. It surely can never get that bad again in a two-Test match up.
The All Blacks in 2017 are not the greater finishers of 2015 and 2016. If anything, they’re as vulnerable as any in the chasing pack.
The All Blacks of 2015 and 2016 caused havoc against teams in the final quarter. Then again, you only have to assess the quality of the substitutes used to know why. For example, in the 2015 World Cup final, Sonny Bill Williams and Beauden Barrett were used as impact players. So too Keven Mealamu and Cody Taylor.
There isn’t the same quality in the All Blacks backline reserves this year. And there certainly isn’t the same depth or class of player among the forwards. The All Blacks run on XV is still a class apart, but the match day squad of 23 doesn’t have the potency of the last two years.
That’s where the gap has closed between the world’s best and the many pretenders making up the Top 10 rankings.
England, Ireland and now South Africa have added greater quality to those picked to change the game in the second half. In each of the Springboks’ four Tests this season the introduction of the substitutes has had a noticeable effect. Not so the All Blacks.
The Kiwis have been at their worst in the final 20 minutes of all four Tests played. And in each case they were in a strong winning position.
The All Blacks led Australia 54-13 going into the last 20 minutes and won 54-34. The thee-Test series against the British and Irish Lions also yielded no positives in the final quarter of each Test.
The All Blacks led 23-8 in the first Test in Auckland with 20 minutes to play and won 30-15. The last quarter was drawn 7-all. The All Blacks led 21-14 in the second Test in Wellington with less than 20 minutes to go. The Lions won the last quarter 10-3 and the Test 24-21. The All Blacks, in the third Test decider in Auckland, led 12-6 at halftime and the scores were level 12-all going into the final quarter. The Test ended 15-all, with the last quarter being 3-all.
This contrasts with a year ago when the All Blacks ram riot against Wales in the final quarter of their Test series and put the Springboks, Pumas and Wallabies to the sword in the final quarter.
The All Blacks’s last 20 minutes against the Springboks in Durban and the first 40 against the Wallabies in Sydney would combine for the greatest hour of attacking rugby in the professional era. The combined score in that period against the traditional two Rugby Championship foes was 75 points.
The All Blacks had the quality of player to step up in most areas to replace Ma’a Nonu (Sonny Bill Williams), Conrad Smith (Ryan Crotty), Dan Carter (Beauden Barrett), Richie McCaw (Sam Cane), Tony Woodcock (Joe Moody) and Keven Mealamu (Cody Taylor). But the third tier of current All Black in those respective positions simply doesn’t have the class or impact of the bracketed six.
It isn’t as simple as comparing the Springboks to the All Blacks in 2017 because France’s challenge was feeble compared with the British and Irish Lions and the same could be said of Australia’s defensive effort against the All Blacks, as opposed to Argentina’s committed attitude against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth.
My comparison is of the All Blacks bench of 2015 and 2016 compared with the All Blacks bench of 2017. Ditto the Springboks of 2016 compared with 2017.
South Africa’s graph in this regard is definitely decidedly healthier than that of the vaunted and famed men in black.