Amazing All Black comeback stuns Boks
The All Blacks showed they have retained their penchant for strong finishes by scoring two late tries to steal a nail-biting 32-30 win over the Springboks in a scintillating finale to the Rugby Championship season at a packed Loftus Versfeld on Saturday evening.
Ardie Savea dotted down as the All Blacks launched a concerted attack off what was to prove the last move of the game, and replacement flyhalf Richie Mo’unga duly slotted a conversion that was a formality but confirmed the agonising truth for Siya Kolisi’s Boks. It was a case of so near and yet so far for them in their quest to complete what would have been a telling double in 2018 over the best team in world rugby.
Those who haven’t watched New Zealand play in the last couple of years would have considered it a freaky comeback from the All Blacks. They were down 30-18 going into the last five minutes and after being outplayed for the bulk of the match, it appeared they had no price.
However, there had been a subtle but noticeable momentum shift when home coach Rassie Erasmus emptied his bench, and with some of the best Bok players in the game, such as Man of the Match Malcolm Marx and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk off the field, the Boks did look a bit undermanned as the Kiwis started their late onslaught.
Marx summed it up when he said afterwards that it was soft moments at the end that cost his team the game, but in truth they lost it because of soft moments and errors earlier in the game.
The Boks should have been ahead at halftime instead of locked at 6-all. There were handling errors, some that you could class as elementary, that cost them. There were several moments in the game when they looked on the brink of scoring only for a mistake to thwart them.
It was noticeable too how every time the Boks scored and looked like they were taking control on the scoreboard, the All Blacks would somehow come back to score the points that kept them in the game. And that just about summed up the All Black effort on the night – they just hung in and then, when the end neared, they showed they have lost none of their renowned ability to close out a win against the odds.
So credit should be given to the All Blacks, who in coming back from the dead confirmed their championship pedigree, as they have time after time. It should also not be ignored that this game was a freaky reversal of the one in Wellington which the Boks won three weeks ago. After that game the Kiwis would have been lamenting the mistakes that contributed to them losing a game they dominated if you look at the statistics, this time the boot was on the other foot.The difference with the All Blacks though is that they make a habit of still managing to win games they should have lost. They might just have started to doubt themselves after Wellington, and if the game had ended with the Boks as winners, those doubts would have multiplied and perhaps led to a crisis.
Even though they’d already clinched the Rugby Championship title, here was plenty of pressure on the All Blacks. They were facing their litmus test, and they came through it in the face of what many would have considered to be insurmountable odds.
While those who don’t know the All Black habit would have considered it a freaky comeback, what was really freaky was how the Boks controlled things for much of the game. It started from the first scrum of the match, with De Klerk exerting enough pressure on opposite number Aaron Smith to force the knock-on.
The hosts took charge of the territory battle and the battle for possession, and a long range Handle Pollard penalty was followed by one from in front of the posts to give the Boks a 6-0 lead after 13 minutes.
But that second penalty was one of those moments that could have been worth more to the Boks. First Marx came close to scoring as the Boks swarmed all over the All Blacks on attack, and then Damian de Allende was held up on the line. Referee Angus Gardner pinged the Kiwis for offside and thus came the three pointer, yet it could so easily have been seven.
There were many of those moments in the first half for the Boks, moments when but for a handling mistake or some desperate scrambling defence from New Zealand, they looked just a pass away from scoring.
But the All Blacks had said they would learn from Wellington, and certainly in the first half their defence was a massive improvement on Westpac Stadium. Their assistant coach Ian Foster summed it up well when he said in the halftime interview that the All Blacks had done well to be 6-all and were happy with that.
They could well have been significantly behind at the halfway point. As it turned out, the Boks did start to capitalise on the pressure in the third quarter. The second half started off with Marx winning a crucial turn-over penalty for his team, and that led to the break from Willie Le Roux that set up the first try of the match to Bok outside centre Jesse Kriel. Playing on his home field, Kriel wriggled away from the All Black defenders after a good touch from prop Steven Kitshoff.
Pollard couldn’t kick anything from the tee a few weeks ago but now he can’t miss anything, and his angled conversion was on target to take the Boks into a 13-6 lead after 45 minutes of play. Three minutes later Pollard was on target with a long range penalty, and suddenly the Boks enjoyed a 10 point lead.
That lead was soon to become 17 points as Kolisi, who had an impressive game as a ball carrier, burst through to set up a try for centre De Allende. With 51 minutes gone the Boks were 23-6 up and on a roll.
That though was one of those moments where the All Blacks showed their ability to make use of even a half opportunity to strike back. It took them less than two minutes to strike back after the De Allende try by profiting from a Bok defensive error in chasing a kick, with Aaron Smith sliding in for the converted try that brought the deficit back to 10 points.
The Boks though were still enjoying more of the game, and when the TMO adjudged that there was no double movement when Cheslin Kolbe touched the chalk in the 59th minute, their 30-13 advantage was starting to look nigh unassailable.
The All Blacks though are usually strong in the last quarter, and they entered the last 20 minutes by striking back immediately from the Kolbe score by crossing through Rieko Ioane. With 19 minutes to go there was 12 points in it. That didn’t seem like much, but it started to look a big lead when it was retained up until the 75th minute, which was when Scott Barrett crossed for a well worked team try that cut the deficit to just five points.
That set in motion an agonising last five minutes. In Wellington the Boks were able to hold out and they looked like they might do it with some comfort when they carried the ball into the All Black half and appeared resolved to play the game in the Kiwi half of the field.
But then came a Savea inspired turn-over penalty, a bit of luck as a Mo’unga penalty kick went out with a good bounce just metres from the corner flag, and then the All Blacks showed great patience as they built up for the winning score. It was heart-breaking for the South Africans but it was an exciting end to a scintillating game that will live long in the memories.
It was perhaps fitting too that in the end the two teams scored an equal number of points against each other over 160 minutes of rugby – which for the Boks is a massive improvement on what happened to them against these opponents in 2016 and 2017.
New Zealand 32 – Tries: Aaron Smith, Rieko Ioane, Scott Barrett and Ardie Savea; Conversions: Beauden and Richie Mo’unga 2; Penalties: Beauden Barrett 2.
South Africa 30 – Tries: Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende and Cheslin Kolbe; Conversions: Handre Pollard 3; Penalties: Handre Pollard 3.
SOURCED FROM THE RUGBY SA WEBSITE.