Port Elizabeth, and Heinrich Brussouw, kept their 100% record against the All Blacks intact, as Springboks ground out an 18–5 victory at the majestic Nelson Mandela Bay stadium. Finally, a positive Tri-Nations review by STYLI CHARALAMBOUS.
It had been 41 years since the people of Port Elizabeth hosted an All Blacks vs Springbok test match. Black and white photos adorning the inside of the Boet Erasmus stadium depict how the Boks outplayed the men from New Zealand in another tight 14-3 encounter, played atop La Roche drive in the city of wind, in 1970. So when the coastal town was once again gifted the pinnacle of test match rugby, it made sure to repay the faith of the South African Rugby Union by packing 45,278 citizens into its brand new stadium and singing the entire national anthem with gusto rarely experienced at rugby matches.
This match was all about questions for the Boks, many of which would have been answered this evening. With less than three weeks to go to the Rugby World Cup, some players would have been cautious about injuring themselves and missing out on a plane ticket to New Zealand. One only needs to look at the misfortune of Jean de Villiers prior to the last two world cups to understand why this could have been a concern. But one look at Heinrich Brussouw’s blood stained scrum cap put paid to any suggestions the Boks would be taking this game easy.
Some cynics will play down the importance of this victory by pointing to a second-string All Blacks line-up, but in truth, no All Blacks team can ever be regarded as second-string. This team of aspiring world cup hopefuls would put most international teams to the sword, and the first ten minutes of this test match was testimony to that. The exciting backline of the All Blacks cut the Bok defence on several occasions early, with only desperate defence from the likes of Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie saving the Boks from being down more points than elapsed scoreboard minutes.
The Bok defence was aggressive and the first points of the match came from vigorous defending at the breakdown, albeit against the run of play. The first of many breakdown infringements by Adam Thompson allowed Morne Steyn to put over his first long-range penalty and draw first blood for the Boks in the sixth minute. A mere three minutes later, Steyn was on target once again to extend the Bok lead to 6-0.
While the All Blacks scrum was suffering at the hands of the Springboks front row, their backs continued to break the line, setting up some near chances that one would normally expect the Kiwis to convert into points. With Brussouw winning the battle of the breakdown, and Colin Slade missing all his attempts at goal, New Zealand fans sorely missed the presence of playmakers Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. And, for probably the first time, Kiwi fans experienced what Bok fans have had to endure over the past two seasons. Injuries to the likes of Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brussouw and Fourie du Preez have robbed the Boks of their McCaws and Carters on too many occasions.
The first half was dominated in possession and territory by the All Blacks, but penalisable errors at scrum time and the breakdown, within Morne Steyn range, allowed the Boks to move to a 12- 0 lead after 25 minutes. Steyn played like the commanding flyhalf of old and did enough to secure the starting berth in the number 10 jersey when the Boks next play in Wellington. If a 34th-minute drop-goal pencilled-in Steyn’s name in the next starting line-up, his tactical kicking display would have convinced Peter de Villiers to whip out the ballpoint pen. Steyn made up for the rather lacklustre display of Fourie du Preez by nailing every kick at goal and putting long-range touch finders behind the All Blacks back three, keeping the Boks going forward all night.
As is almost customary for the All Blacks, a set-piece move from the line-out seconds before half-time set up a backline move that allowed Hoseai Gear to cut inside the defending Boks line, and offload to Richard Kahui to keep New Zealand in the game, and within reach. At 15-5 up at half-time, like last week against the Wallabies, the Boks were leading and a nation held its breath.
The second half was a tight affair, with only another Steyn penalty troubling the scorers, for what would be the final score: 18-5. For the Boks, many pre-World Cup conundrums would have been solved. Bryan Habana looked as sharp and almost as quick as the player that set the 2007 tournament alight. Bakkies Botha played the enforcer role with aplomb. In fact, the entire team put on rousing performances – bar Fourie du Preez who had somewhat of shocker. Heinrich Brussouw was superb, responsible for bringing the possession stats to parity almost single handedly. When the World Cup squad is announced this coming Tuesday evening, at 19:30, the only head scratching selection poser will be over the choice of starting hooker. Bismarck du Plessis played his usual belligerent self again, and his disdain at being subbed for John Smit, was evident for all to see, even those who aren’t that au fait with lip reading.
For fans, this game not only ensured that the Boks ended the Tri-Nations with a win, but restored faith in the team’s chances to lift the Webb Ellis trophy. The World Cup final is scheduled for Sunday, 23 October, but this performance and the fact the Boks are the only team have beaten the AB’s in New Zealand in recent times, showed that the real final may in fact be played on Saturday, 15 October when the Boks are scheduled to meet the All Blacks in a colossal semi-final. DM
For South Africa:
Pens: Steyn (5)
For New Zealand:
South Africa: 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Danie Rossouw, 20 Ashley Johnson, 21 François Hougaard, 22 Butch James.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Isaia Toeava, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Adam Thomson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Jarrad Hoeata, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Cory Jane.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Small (England), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
TMO: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)
Photo: Jean De Villiers of South Africa’s Springboks is tackled by Sonny Bill Williams (L) and Jerome Kaino of New Zealand’s All Blacks during their Tri-Nations rugby union match in Port Elizabeth, August 20, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings.
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