Saturday 18 January 2020

Peter Bills: All Blacks throw down gauntlet

New Zealand 31
South Africa 17

Richie McCaw jumps over CJ van der Linde during during yet another marauding All Blacks attack in Wellington. Photo: Reuters
Richie McCaw jumps over CJ van der Linde during during yet another marauding All Blacks attack in Wellington. Photo: Reuters

Peter Bills in Wellington

So now we know it wasn't a fluke. And the challenge New Zealand's attacking game plan will present to every team in next year's World Cup has been spelled out in clear, exciting terms.

Two defeats of world champions South Africa, a points tally of 63-29 and a try count of 8-2 in their favour speaks volumes for the All Blacks' attacking prowess and their determination to play a fast, penetrative game with ball-handling, and not kicking, at its core.

They have thrown down a challenge to world rugby.

To play such a compelling a style of rugby in perfect conditions at Auckland nine days ago was one thing. The Springboks were surprised, shocked by it. But to repeat the feat in wet, windy conditions at Wellington on Saturday night was something else altogether.

This four-try defeat, a victory so comprehensive that Dan Carter could afford to miss five of his first six kicks at goal, said a lot about New Zealand's determination to play fast and wide. They have mixed physicality with pace, enterprise with aggression.

It is a compelling combination and it challenges the rest of the world to see if they can handle it.

One thing is for sure: the South Africans have not been able to cope with it, on successive weekends.

The early loss of Danie Rossouw to the sin-bin for an attempted kick on Richie McCaw again put the Springboks on the back foot. New Zealand scored two unconverted tries, through Ma'a Nonu and Mils Muliaina, in the time Rossouw was off and the die was cast.

Two more, from newer members of the squad Renee Ranger and the highly talented Israel Dagg in the second half, completed the job.

Man-of-the-match Piri Weepu also banged over a second-half penalty to ease the awesome All Blacks' path to victory.

Coach Graham Henry said "We weren't as clinical as last week but to play two big Tests in two weeks is pretty demanding.


"The game could still have gone either way around the 60th minute mark when we were under pressure near our own line. But we defended superbly and that was the turning point."

Well, perhaps one of the turning points. Another was Rossouw's sin-binning by Irish referee Alain Rolland after only four minutes.

Did Henry win this Test match before the first ball had even been kicked? Is it possible the All Blacks coach's clever, fulsome praise of the Irish official (he called Rolland the best referee in the world) eventually played out in the New Zealanders' favour?

All referees crave such praise and while Rolland was quick to yellow-card Rossouw, he was by no means as firm in dealing with McCaw, who was warned twice about killing the loose ball and then given a third, general warning. McCaw was treated leniently, the Springboks harshly.

But that was not the reason they lost. They were a yard slower than the All Blacks in all they did and they seemed unable to break the trend or lift their own tempo, except for a brief spell in the third quarter of the game.

The Springboks looked leg weary long before the end and it is a mystery why several of their best players -- the likes of Pierre Spies, Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers and a couple of others, albeit to a slightly lesser degree -- look like shadows of their former selves at the moment. De Villiers' woes were compounded yesterday when he picked up a two-week ban for a dangerous tackle.

The South Africans were second best in most phases, the line-outs excepted where they stole four of the All Blacks' throws.

But New Zealand had such a snap about them and were so innovative, enterprising and full of ideas that scores seemed inevitable.

This modern philosophy is a challenge to the entire rugby-playing world.

If the All Blacks continue with it -- and there is no indication of any change -- they will cause problems to every opponent, most of whom have been so hideously predictable in their strategy they would have no chance of matching New Zealand's enterprise.

But for the neutral observer, it makes for compelling viewing.

NEW ZEALAND -- M Muliaina; C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu (B Cruden 73), R Ranger (I Dagg 63); D Carter, P Weepu (J Cowan 63); A Woodcock, K Mealamu (C Flynn 75), O Franks (B Franks 66), B Thorn, T Donnelly (S Whitelock 63), J Kaino, R McCaw (Capt, L Messam 75), K Read.

SOUTH AFRICA -- Z Kirchner; J de Villiers (G Aplon 40), J Fourie, W Olivier, B Habana; M Steyn, R Januarie (R Pienaar 53); G Steenkamp, J Smit (Capt, C Ralepelle 74), CJ van der Linde (BJ Botha 40), D Rossouw (B Bekker 53), V Matfield, S Burger, F Louw, P Spies (R Kankowski 69).

REF -- A Rolland (Ireland).

Irish Independent

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