Finally there was something positive to talk about in the Rugby Championship.
But all that changed in Wellington at a packed Westpac Stadium with the talked-down Springboks pulling off one of the biggest upsets in years beating the All Blacks – in New Zealand – 36-34.
To put it in perspective it was the All Blacks first loss to a single nation in New Zealand since South Africa last beat them in Hamilton in September 2009, almost a decade ago.
The only other team to inflict a defeat on the world champions on home soil was the combined British and Irish Lions last year.
HIGHLIGHTS: 2018 TRC Rd 4: New Zealand v South Africa— TheRugbyChampionship (@SanzarTRC) September 15, 2018
It was a real classic of Freedom Cup history, with the @Springboks scoring their highest ever points tally in New Zealand against @Allblacks, to win 34-36. #RugbyChampionship #NZLvRSA pic.twitter.com/06ibF4stTR
The All Blacks are the great entertainers of world rugby. One of the reasons they are so popular around the world, not only among rugby fans but all sports followers, is the way they play the game.
Fast, skillful, super-confident and care-free. They play rugby the way it is meant to be played.
The thing about Steve Hansen’s All Blacks, though, like Manchester United in their pomp under Alex Ferguson, is they will always give you a chance.
Their attitude is you may score but we will score more. However, the fate of the two nations could not have been more different coming into the match.
The All Blacks were fresh from a nine match winning streak after recently retaining the Bledisloe Cup for a 16th straight year.
The Springboks were coming off losses to the Pumas in Argentina and the Wallabies in Australia. The calls were already growing for coach Rassie Erasmus to be sacked, even though he was only appointed in May.
New Zealand were unbackable favourites with South Africa being given up to thirty points start.
It looked like it was all going to plan after the All Blacks raced to a 12-point lead after 15-minutes thanks to tries scored with the greatest of ease by Jordie Barrett and Aaron Smith.
Hansen is adamant that despite his team’s razzle dazzle nothing comes without the forward dominance established upfront, first and foremost.
Perhaps buoyed by the two quick tries and egged on by a capacity crowd at Westpac Stadium wanting tries, tries and more tries, the All Blacks became more and more cavalier with their style beginning to resemble a Barbarians end of season jaunt.
Of the five tries the Boks managed – the first came from woeful defending, the second from a suicidal quick lineout throw from Jordie Barrett, the third from the forwards failing to muscle-up and stop a rolling maul, the fourth a gift intercept from Anton Lienert-Brown and the fifth woeful defending again, this time from Beauden Barrett, one of the best attacking players on the planet.
The Boks certainly took their chances, with winger Aphiwe Dyantyi finishing both his tries superbly, but most nations would have puts points on the All Blacks porous defence.
The All Blacks were only asked to make 43 tackles but they missed 16 of those for a dreadful tackling success rate of just 72.9 per cent.
A job very well done by our Springboks for the fierce fight and victory against the tough All Blacks. The determination you demonstrated today, away from home, is beyond fulfilling. Our team showed true character from start to finish. Continue to fly the flag, you make us proud. pic.twitter.com/5LKH0g7FAj— President Cyril Ramaphosa (@CyrilRamaphosa) September 15, 2018
Compare that to the visitor’s who made a mammoth 155 tackles, only missing 28 for a tackle success rate of 84.7 per cent.
Every single game statistic was completely dominated by the All Blacks – possession 68-32; territory 70-30; 930 run metres to 329; 11 line breaks to five; nine offloads to three and nine Seven Phase plus to two.
They conceded just three penalties to ten and also had the benefit of the Springboks laying with fourteen men for ten minutes after Willie Le Roux was sent to the sin-bin from the 66th to the 76th minutes.
The All Blacks were trailing 36-29 when Le Roux went to the bin and could only manage one try to Ardie Savea while he was off the field, with Beauden Barrett’s conversion (which would have tied the scores) coming off the post.
He hit the post twice in a woeful goal kicking display where he landed just two conversions from six attempts. In the end it was the difference between the teams.
But they also dominated the mistakes, nine handling errors to six, and three of these came in the final eight minutes (including three minutes added on) as they bombarded the South African line.
Play this game 100 times and the All Blacks win 99 times – but on this night thanks to some heroic Springbok defence and some inexplicable New Zealand mistakes South Africa recorded a much needed victory.
The All Blacks will come roaring back no doubt to claim the Rugby Championship – they need just one win from their remaining two matches.
But reverses like this do sprinkle the seeds of doubts in player’s minds and far far away in Ireland, Joe Schmidt, the coach of the only true challengers to the All Blacks supremacy, will have eagerly been taking notes.
If they want to win the Rugby World Cup in Japan then the All Blacks cannot afford more days like these. The great entertainers might need to become a little less entertaining.
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