By Scott Donaldson
The Rugby Championship 2013 ended with a magnificent advertisement of the game of rugby with the All Blacks winning 38-27 at Ellis Park, Johannesburg. Was this the best performance by the All Blacks ever? It is difficult to tell, but given the hostile environment at altitude in front of 62,000 Springboks fans and given that the Rugby Championship 2013 was at stake, this has to be up there!
The All Blacks 38-27 win will be up there with the great semi final win over Australia at the Rugby World Cup 2011, the 2005 second test against the British and Irish Lions and a couple of 50 point hidings the All Blacks gave the Springboks and Wallabies in 2003. The All Blacks vs Wallabies in 2000? The 1987 and 1995 Rugby World Cup campaigns also had some great performances by the All Blacks. The 1996 win by the All Blacks over the Wallabies 43-6 must up there.
The Springboks played well and got so close to securing more than the four tries that they can at least take some encouragement from this game. They scored four tries but conceded five tries and so they got a bonus point , even though the All Blacks did too. Jean De Villiers was inspirational as captain, while Bryan Habana’s injury from catching an innocuous kick in the first half cost the Springboks some pace out wide. Willie Le Roux was dangerous for the Springboks, while the substitution of the du Plessis brothers at a crucial time, probably didn’t help the Springbok’s cause.
It was rare to see the All Blacks as competitive at the breakdown, lineouts and scrums as they were and these are usually areas which the Springboks dominate.
The All Blacks scrambled well given that both Liam Messam and Ben Franks both spent time in the sinbin. Franks was especially stupid. This made the All Blacks victory all the more spectacular given that they scored points while down to 14 men. Their depth this season has definitely helped.
In the end, the pace of the game was so intense that most players were out on their feet. The Springboks struggled to chase the game in the last 20 minutes when they needed the spark that the All Blacks had throughout.
Kieran Read was the man of the match, with a try and some amazing runs and an beautiful assist for the opening Ben Smith try. There were some other great tries by both teams. Ben Smith and Beauden Barrett seemed to waltz through weak defence for tries. Apart from Franks, you couldn’t fault any All Black performances. How does Richie McCaw come back from injury and play 80 minutes in such a big game?
What made this game special was the way the team in the lead kept changing and this made it exciting. The massive crowd and playing at this top level inspired both teams to play a great game.
Officials deal with the team sheet situation!
This game was also noteworthy for some other instances. The referee Nigel Owens was great and explained decisions well, but he got injured in the second half, the All Blacks didn’t fill out the team card properly, but fortunately sensibility prevailed and the game continued. The game actually ran for about 2 hours with all the stoppages and checking forward passes and infringements. I didn’t mind given the importance of the match. The pass from Eben Etzebeth to Bryan Habana for his try was dubious but the relative velocity argument may prevail.
I have respect for Springboks captain Jean de Villiers. His post match concession speech was very humble and the way he communicated with the referee and dealt with the team sheet situation showed great sportsmanship.
For the record, why was the Springboks fan jumping up and down in the crowd with her hands on her chest? Was she not wearing support? Because doing that probably drew more attention to the problem!