The All Blacks kept their No 1 ranking in world rugby with a 29-15 win over the Springboks in a game that left a bad taste in any rugby fan’s mouth.
Referee Romain Poite will be remembered by many across the two countries as he dispatched Bismarck du Plessis with a red card – the product of two very iffy yellows – and then later on gave two more yellows to New Zealand after the game was over as a contest.
Du Plessis was painted as the villain by a one-sided Auckland crowd baying for blood, but hardly deserved the red card he got in the 42nd minute of the game.
By dispatching Du Plessis, referee Poite effectively ended the game as a contest, handing the All Blacks the victory and ripped out the heart of the Springbok attack.
Playing with 14 men the Boks tried valiantly, but were never going to be a match for the No 1 side in the world. They had heart and never gave up, but the game was decided the moment that Poite reached into his pocket.
While the New Zealand public would have been happy after a week of soul-searching as to whether they were the best in the world, it was a sad indictment of modern rugby that an official could have so much power over the result of the game.
If Du Plessis’ actions were overboard, then rugby as a game is in big trouble in terms of its future.
Physicality is at the heart of any game and if legitimate big hits are being carded, then not only do the Boks lose, but so does the rugby world as a whole.
Du Plessis’ tackle on Carter was as physical as it gets in the laws of rugby. But that’s exactly the point. It was within the laws. And it was at a time when he was the best Bok forward on the field.
He had ripped two turnovers at the breakdown, anchored an exceptionally strong scrum and was putting in one of the performances of his life.
Some of the more flippant members of the press suggested that he breached the unwritten code that he tackled Dan Carter, the golden boy of rugby, but a sober relook at the tackle still leads one to the conclusion that it did not deserve a yellow.
The IRB have already declined questions to Poite after the game, mainly because it is a red card offence and therefore warrants a disciplinary hearing. But it is hard for anyone to believe that Du Plessis will get anything other than a "sorry" from IRB officials.
The All Blacks wouldn’t be happy either, as two yellow cards late in the game meant they ended the match with 13 men, with captain Kieran Reid and midfielder Ma’a Nonu dispatched in the last few minutes.
Still, the worst part is that it robbed world rugby of a true test of the All Blacks' strength. When numbers one and two face off in a contest in any sport, you want the heart-wrenching 80 minutes of action as they go at each other. Whoever is left standing at the end then is the victor. This result leaves nobody happy.
In the first half hour the Boks were overshadowed by an All Black side that played off their mistakes, was more composed and looked truly like a side that rarely lose in these parts of the world.
They had already taken a poor kick by Bryan Habana, which went off the side of his boot, and sent it downfield to the corner to put the Boks under pressure.
From the lineout they threw a dummy throw that caught the front defence off guard and Kieran Reid went over, a try confirmed by the TMO to put the All Blacks into the lead.
Steyn pulled back a penalty three minutes later when Reid played the man in the air. But Steyn wasn’t on song after the second turnover by Du Plessis and the score remained 7-3.
And then came Du Plessis’ sin binning. It was a moment which tipped the scales in the favour of the home side, who upped the pace as Beauden Barrett set up their second try with a beautiful break in the midfield, and Brodie Retallick finished it off.
When Du Plessis returned, the Boks actually looked as if they were getting on top physically. The pack started to put together phases, they got on the front foot and eventually went into double figures just before the break with a maul that was as ironic as anything else in the game as Du Plessis ended up at the bottom.
But then after the break the second yellow came. It came from a seemingly innocuous fend from Du Plessis which hit Liam Messam in the chest and moved upwards.
While it didn’t look like it warranted anything more than a penalty, Poite went to the pocket and ended the game as a contest.
Playing with 14 men, the Boks simply didn’t have a chance. But despite that, and thanks to some passionate play by those left on the field they only lost the second half 12-5. Stronger Bok sides have come undone worse in similar positions.
Reid added a second, and Sam Cane also crossed the line to ensure the All Blacks won at a canter.
But the Boks never stopped fighting. When Reid and Nonu were dispatched they scored through Pat Lambie from a Morne Steyn cross kick that was tapped back by Zane Kirchner.
It showed this Bok team has fighting spirit. Without their heartbeat in Bismarck, they soldiered on, but as anyone who watches rugby regularly will know, you can’t fight the ref. No matter how wrong he may be.
New Zealand - Tries: Kieran Read (2), Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane. Conversions: Dan Carter, Beauden Barrett (2). Penalty: Carter.
South Africa - Tries: Bismarck du Plessis, Pat Lambie. Conversion: Morne Steyn. Penalty: Steyn.