Desperate and dangerous All Blacks roar as Boks get cute and get caught

The first 20 minutes of a Springbok-All Black test often says it all. Not today. The first 20 minutes were a whole game in themselves, but there was no scoring.

As Diggercane told me: this is the best 0-0 first quarter ever. But there were signs of a Bok problem. Questions that became clear later. First, after a huge hooker advantage in the first Test, the Bok brain trust just gave way to New Zealand, sitting out man of the match Malcolm Marx for the crucial first 30 minutes.

Additionally, Duane Vermuelen was parachuted into Test rugby after knee surgery rehabilitation and zero rugby played at any level. Finally, Jesse Kriel was on the wing, with four or five real South African wings begging.

Ardie Savea and Sam Cane were released to play rugby by big cleaners, a dominant line-up (powered by a trembling Joseph Dweba, whose monstrous shoulders seemed to cripple his throwing action).

A yellow card to Damian Willemse left the Boks reeling from the start, but they regrouped. Pieter-Steph du Toit intercepted a wayward pass from Richie Mo’unga and nearly scored (and would have had he looked left early) but for the desperate All Blacks defence.

Desperate was the key word. The attitude. A 10-minute flurry from the All Blacks reminded us of just how dangerous they are, with Will Jordan finally in sight, the aerial game shored up, and forwards rejuvenated at altitude (where few Boks now live).

Sam Whitelock rolled back time, Cane was all over the place and Mo’unga bounced back from his mistake to solve Bok’s high line. Two tries later and 15-0 up, with Dweba demoralized, Kriel knocked out and Vermuelen’s return disappointing, the New Zealand coaching box was full of smiles.

(Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

But the last 10 minutes of the half tipped Bok’s way. Marx continued on his way to join Frans Malherbe on his 50th cap and immediately Bok’s scrum and line-up were improved. Jasper Wiese also replaced Vermuelen early on, and we may not see the former No.8 in Bok colors soon.

Willie le Roux followed a long flat pass from Handre Pollard and put Lukhanyo Am through Caleb Clarke’s weak tackle attempt, and it was 8-15 after Pollard’s sideline kick. Pollard is yet to miss the Rugby Championship and closed the half with a long three.

A 15-10 margin didn’t seem to match the All Blacks’ dominance and the frowns of their coaches returned. Their team had run another hundred yards, passed and run twice as much, hadn’t lost a ruck or lineout, and looked on the better side.

In the second half, Bok’s revival continued with a new front line, and it was soon 15-13 on the back of maul drives and direct running, but typical Wiese exuberance gave the Kiwis a chance to rebuild their 5-point margin (18-13).

Clarke eventually tackled Am to erase a Bok try, but lineout breaches kept the All Blacks stuck in their 22. A formal warning at 54 minutes and the Boks kicked into the corner again. It looked like a great moment when the All Blacks made a crucial steal after several sharp Bok phases. The All Black line-up kept stealing the ball from Bok, but their loose kicks kept the Boks in it.

Am took the ball in the gut and found Makazole Mapimpi for an apparent try beauty, but was called back for Jaden Hendrickse protecting Whitelock from a tackle he in truth never would have made.

Mo’unga never seems to miss to make it 21-13, a 12-point swing.

But right away, the home side fought back to level the try count 2-2. Pollard hit it nice to make it 20-21 and 20 to play. A scrum penalty to SA at 62 made for an easy exit, and Beauden Barrett seemed to sow panic on the pitch with him: he held off Hendrickse, but it was just a yellow card, not a penalty try.

15 minutes from the end, the Boks have maintained their first lead (23-21), but their rush defense has not moved.

Rieko Ioane’s big break from deep led to a try from David Havili for the best player on the pitch (Savea) which put the All Blacks ahead 28-23.

The All Blacks looked to be playing better without Beauden Barrett, Whitelock continued his stealing role (not just at the lineout, but at the breakdown) to put the Boks under pressure, and his Crusader captain Scott Barrett scored the winner.

Deserved winners due to their better start, New Zealand recovered 50-50 in territory and possession, and although the Boks made more breaks (7-6) and yards (551-537), the Allies Blacks beat more defenders (20-17) and made 12 more offloads, while leveling turnovers conceded (10-10).

For the All Blacks, Rieko made 10 runs, Samisoni Taukei’aho 12 and Savea 13. Cane made 11 hard tackles and Whitelock was all-around.

Among the Boks, Willemse, Am (114 meters of sliding on the wing) and Pieter-Steph du Toit have had their fill of the race. Pollard never missed the poles and made a nice pass to free a drifting Roux. Malherbe had 12 tackles and Lood de Jager had 13 as well.

The problem for the Boks is that it felt like a throwback to 2013 or 2018 where the Boks tried to overplay and got caught in an NBA-style shootout.

Ian Foster is the big winner. What does that mean? He has probably made a name for himself in boxing in France in 2023.

Jacques Nienaber has outdone himself. Keep Marx in the No. 2 jersey, a wing on the wing and a No. 8 fit at the base. It may be a narrow victory.

Welcome back, All Blacks!

Sports Grp2

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