Reigning champions New Zealand were ruthless and clinical as they squashed South Africa to open up their Rugby World Cup defence with a 23-13 victory over the Springboks.
A Handre Pollard penalty opened the scoring in Yokohama City as Rassie Erasmus’ side stormed out of the blocks. But tries from George Bridge and Scott Barrett in quick succession put the All Blacks in the ascendancy.
The Boks were much better after the interval and Pieter-Steph du Toit swan-dived over to get them back in it. But the All Blacks retained a degree of order with two late penalties keeping them in control.
Here are our talking points from an enthralling Test match.
NEW BOYS BRIDGE THE GAP
Eyebrows were raised on the eve of the game when Steve Hansen named Sevu Reece and George Bridge as his starting wings. Players with five (Bridge) and three (Reece) caps starting in the biggest tournament there is.
And yet, as has been the case throughout the years with All Blacks players, nothing fazes them. They are built to be the best. After the 2015 World Cup, rivals thought it was their time to close the gap following the retirements of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Keven Mealamu.
Instead, Sam Cane, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown and Codie Taylor – among others – stepped in seamlessly to fill the void. So it should come as no surprise then that Reece and Bridge nervelessly entered the elite level and played like they had always belonged.
Crusaders flyer Reece, 22, made the third most metres of any player (59), behind only team-mate Lienert-Brown (63) and South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe (118). He also made the joint-most clean breaks (2) and it was his surging run down the right win that led to New Zealand’s opening try.
It was scored by his Crusaders colleague Bridge, 24, who beat three defenders during the game – as did Reece. Both were also more than effective in defence – Bridge missing just one of his eight attempted tackles.
Reliable Hansen lieutenant Rieko Ioane was supposedly going to get the nod against the Springboks. On this evidence the winger with 23 tries in 26 Tests is likely to stay waiting in the wings a little longer.
PRESSURE INTO POINTS FOR SOUTH AFRICA
The Boks sprung into life from the start and the first 20 minutes resembled something of a green battering ram hammering away at their black-shirted opponents.
But, when you’re on top against the All Blacks, capitalising on momentum is key. Erasmus’ side aren’t a bunch of rag-tag misfits just happy to be at a World Cup and catching the rusty defending champions off guard in their opener. The Rugby Championship victors have beaten and drawn against the world’s best side inside the last 12 months.
Their start was ferocious, hulking skipper Duane Vermeulen seemingly on a mission as he shed would-be tacklers aside. Where he led, others followed, Du Toit foraged for both opportunities to force any kind of hole in the All Blacks defence while Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert dominated the lineout.
But for all their battering, Pollard’s sole penalty was all they had to show for their hard work. Having looked flustered and fragile, two tries in four minutes flipped the script completely. While the 1995 and 2007 champions had been made to chip away at the black wall, New Zealand tore the green one down completely.
At 17-3 down the Springboks could have crumbled but they stood tall. Although there was a sense the clinical All Blacks were always in control and holding them at arm’s length – thanks to the brilliance of metronome Beauden Barrett. Speaking of…
BIG GAMES FROM BARRETT BROTHERS
Beauden, Scott and Jordie. Three of the five Barrett brothers are in Hansen’s World Cup squad. Beauden, Scott and Jordie created history last June when they became the first trio of brothers to start in the same Test for New Zealand, against France.
What isn’t so historical but incredibly impressive is that the Barrett brothers are – remarkably – the 47th set of siblings to play together in the famous black shirt. Sam, George and Luke Whitelock are the only other trio but never played in the same Test together.
Big men upholding a big name and a big tradition. It was fitting then that Beauden and Scott, who both started against South Africa, were instrumental to victory.
A lot was made of long-time Hurricanes and new Blues fly-half Beauden being shunted to full-back to accommodate Richie Mo’unga at 10. But if the Springboks thought that would lessen his impact they could not have been more wrong, as he put in a man-of-the-match performance.
Scott scored the second try and his 32 metres made was the sixth highest of those in black, while his 10 tackles was joint top among colleagues too. Winning his 32nd cap since his 2016 debut, he is now a lock for the second lock spot alongside Sam Whitelock – although that might change when Brodie Retallick returns.
Know more about Sport360 Application