Just for one magnificent afternoon, modern rugby’s global audience was treated to a throwback of the glory of a Springboks versus All Blacks Test in South Africa.
The occasion was truly special. This will be the last time the All Blacks will ever play the Springboks at Newlands, a ground steeped in so much history but the old lady, as a spectator experience, is a spent force.
Not so the Springboks and South African rugby.
This was a Test that will be spoken about for a long time. It was one that got away from the Springboks but don’t dismiss just how good these All Blacks are. You don’t lose just one in the last 30 Tests to Australia and South Africa if you don’t know how to win ugly.
The All Blacks, in Cape Town, did it the hard way against a team whose forwards could not have produced a more powerful collective effort. Unfortunately the Springbok backs, as a unit and individually, were not in the class of the forwards.
It’s a shame because the Boks were deserving of getting one more point. Instead history will record yet another Springboks defeat against the men in black; the 11th in the last 12 meetings, the sixth in succession and the fifth in the last six Tests in South Africa.
Somehow, Saturday’s one pointer was very different. There is seldom celebration in defeat but there was every reason to shout with joy about the manner in which the Springboks fronted the All Blacks after the 57-0 mauling in Albany.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read conceded his team lacked the necessary intensity at the start of the game but the World Champions, Bledisloe Cup holders and 2017 Rugby Championship winners found the intensity and defensive resolve to repel the Springboks’ last two minutes of attack to force a turnover and claim a 25-24 win.
The match has been described all over the world as one of the game’s great Tests.
And how world rugby’s most celebrated international rivalry needed something out of the ordinary to convince the doubters that there is still significance to the wonder of a Springboks versus All Blacks Tests.
On the evidence of the 90 minutes played at Newlands, there is again hope for the Springboks, and hope for the All Blacks that they have a traditional foe that can push them to the limit.
The All Blacks, to keep on improving, need South Africa, by way of just one example, to be strong.
It was interesting reading all the New Zealand reaction. The country’s rugby commentators, orally, digitally and in print, were probably even more delighted with the Springboks display than the most patriotic South African.
New Zealand wants South Africa to be a force, just as much as most South African rugby supporters want the All Blacks to be vulnerable. There is such rugby respect between the All Blacks and Springboks, but for this generation of New Zealand player it needed an experience of why and not just a story from yesteryear.
Those All Blacks who were at the coalface at Newlands now have their own story of what makes it so different, dramatic and delightful to beat an in-form Springbok team in the Republic.
‘Special night with the brothers in Cape Town. A Test we won’t forget for a long time. Respect to the Springboks and our South African fans,’ tweeted All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams on social media.
Mark Reason, a veteran English rugby journalist now living in New Zealand, wrote: ‘Just to hear the stands of Newlands echoing with the roars of men long dead was enough to put a song in any rugby man’s heart. The All Blacks need South Africa to be great again and, just for one glorious day, the Boks were back.’
The Springboks were indeed back and present, with captain Eben Etzebeth and hooker Malcolm Marx never having played with such excellence and impact. Marx produced the most complete performance from a hooker I’ve written about in the last 28 years.
There was so much emotion and desperation in this Springboks performance – and rightly so from a team wanting respect from their supporters and opponents who are the best team in the world.
Respect is what the Springboks got post the final whistle, but they still didn’t get the result.
For all the purple prose written and spoken of the Springboks’ response at Newlands to that awful night in Albany, defiance in defeat is to be respected and not revered.
If the Springboks were colossal in getting 24 points, what does that say about the quality of the team that left Newlands with 25 points?
All South Africans should delight in the Springboks display but equally demand that days like Saturday are not once-off occasions every five years.
*Mark Keohane’s column appeared in Business Day Newspaper