The All Blacks proved by a country mile they are the best side on the planet at the moment as they produced a clinical second-half performance to beat the Springboks 32-16 in comprehensive fashion at FNB Stadium on Saturday.
At the end of the season the big showdown became a massive reality check for the Springboks. Against a side that plays with width and confidence, they needed to play it tactically perfect. They needed to have a solid defence and, more than that, they needed a bit of luck as well.
In the end though the reality check came and it was brutal. If there ever was a concern about how far behind the All Blacks the Boks have fallen, then this was it. There is a fallacy about South African rugby that we are the best in the world. But while the Boks can produce flashes of brilliance at times, they also can produce moments of immense lows to follow those highs. The All Blacks, on the other hand, are magnificent in their consistency and possess a killer instinct that few other teams in the world can match.
The Boks were handed a massive lesson on Saturday night, one that they will carry along with them forever. It wasn’t that they didn’t create enough opportunities, nor that they didn’t rattle the All Blacks at times during the game. Once again there were too many points left on the board, too many opportunities missed. Twelve points with the boot and at least two try-scoring opportunities.
But that was the attack. Where the Boks really lost the game was on defence, and at least two of the tries were simple basic defensive errors and when they needed to up the ante, they simply couldn’t hold out against the best attacking team in the world.
There is also a lesson here. The All Blacks are supremely confident in their own abilities, so much so that even though they were 10-0 down and struggling in the first half; they simply had the patience and self-confidence to take their time and didn’t panic. They simply didn’t stop playing their natural game, and as the game went on found themselves more and more confident against a Bok team that started grappling with self-belief issues, especially on attack.
Where they struggled in Dunedin with physicality, the All Blacks showed up the Boks in the second half, although it must be said that referee Alain Rolland once again allowed them to virtually get away with murder on occasions, especially close to their own line.
That aside, they were worthy winners, scoring 20 unanswered points on a night where the Bok fans were hoping the Highveld, crowd and home-ground advantage would go their way.
On the positive side, if there is one for any Bok fan after such a rugby lesson, is that this team is still learning. They are adapting and finding their feet. They will become more settled and learn from their mistakes. They will learn from the hurt and embarrassment of this game. They will stand up again.
Still, it was dramatic how the game simply changed at half time; especially after a first half dominated by the Boks in all facets.
The Boks made the first inroads and for the first 20 minutes, the All Blacks hardly saw any ball. The home side were rewarded when Bryan Habana went over the line after a beauty of a move off a lineout which saw both Francois Louw and Duanne Vermeulen turn and set up a charging Willem Alberts, whose pass was initially juggled by Liam Messam before Jean de Villiers caught it and sent Habana away to score.
Goosen added a penalty, his first successful shot after two early misses, to let the Boks lead 10-0, but then a string of turnovers was seized upon by the visitors, and although the Boks scrambled well, a missed touch kick by Jaco Taute was spread wide and Sam Whitelock scored in the corner as they beat the Boks for pace out wide.
Then Habana, the hero earlier, became the villain as he shot out of line to try and take the intercept, and the All Blacks simply moved the ball past him to set up an easy run in for Aaron Smith to give the All Blacks the lead for the first time in the match.
Goosen limped off the field and was replaced by Elton Jantjies, and initially the change looked positive, as Jantjies slotted two penalties to let the Boks go in 16-12 at the break.
But after half time, the complexion of the game changed. From the kickoff, the All Blacks claimed a crucial turnover, spread it wide and Taute missed a one-on-one tackle on Israel Dagg who managed to pop the pass to Kieran Reid, who in turn sent Ma’a Nonu over the line.
It was the turning point the Boks had feared. And it got worse shortly afterwards as the Bok defensive line moved too slowly and Conrad Smith waltzed over for the fourth try. At 26-16 the Boks were in deep trouble.
Not even a yellow card to Dagg helped as the All Blacks tightened the noose, and Carter put over a simple drop to extend the lead. He followed it up with a penalty to drive the final nail into the coffin.
There is no doubt a 32-16 scoreline is a drubbing, and the Boks limp away knowing they are a far way off the best side in the world. This will be a game they will remember for a long time.
What they do to stand up again will define them as a team.
South Africa – Try: Bryan Habana. Conversion: Johan Goosen. Penalties: Goosen, Elton Jantjies (2).
New Zealand – Tries: Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Ma`a Nonu, Conrad Smith. Conversions: Dan Carter (3). Penalty: Carter. Drop goal: Carter.