Way back when, in 1979, when Auckland somehow rose from the gallows with quarter of an hour left to pip Counties in easily one of the most famous Ranfurly Shield matches, their coach Bryan Craies was ecstatic, “What a finish, now that’s a real team. Boy, they have guts”.
Those sentiments would be befitting of the All Blacks last weekend in their comeback against the Springboks. And they also had the guts to hang close in the first half- at a time when they were being so clearly out-played in the first half-hour. Yet they were only adrift by three points (3-6) at that stage and were even stevens by halftime.
That was crucial in the final wash-up because the Boks would have been uncatchable if you add on their early second half points blitz.
You could make a case that it was the All Blacks’ first half defence that was so significant in their ultimate great escape. And he hasn’t been given enough credit, but Shannon Frizell stood out pretty well in that. More than one armchair critic has wondered why there were no Frizell trademark marauding runs. The answer is probably because he used up most of his energy in stopping rampant South Africans. Someone wrote that Liam Squire can’t come back soon enough, but that’s unduly harsh on Frizzel. He’s made a pretty good fist of things so far; he’s a tough nut and a real athlete and he’ll improve quickly. All this healthy competition for spots- aren’t we lucky? Steve Hansen and his selectors seem to have a pretty good idea on who will do the job they require and exactly when.
On the subject of writing players off, a journo from NZME who shall remain nameless, reckons that Ben Smith might be past it. But how? Has Smith really gone from being the world’s premier fullback to the knacker’s yard in less than a month? Don’t think so. I do recall the very same person writing off Dan Carter before the 2015 World Cup (and then lauding him as the answer to all during the tournament). Turncoat nonsense.
One player who didn’t fare as well as usual was Ryan Crotty. He is classy and experienced, but is his head still quite right? He doesn’t seem a hundred percent on point just now. Or is this just perception, and it was the awesome Springbok midfield that made him look rather average? Possibly the latter, but don’t completely dismiss the first suggestion.
The best back on the field was Faf De Klerk, followed by Beauden Barrett. De Klerk has the heart of a lion. He is an incredible halfback. Abrasive, smart and quick. I wish he was an All Black. It was like the South Africans were playing with four loose forwards.
Thank goodness for Beauden Barrett. He is cleverer than a carload of monkeys crossed with Einstein’s descendants. The outstanding single act of the match was his turn on a sixpence and jet boosters on, to improbably get back and deny the seriously quick winger, Dyantyi. And of course, he’s a great back-up fullback.
Great teams almost always find a way.
*(If you want to concur or disagree in private with any of the above):