What we learned today. It is a bit early to be calling out the winner for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup but New Zealand and South Africa surely are destined to be the two teams to beat in the tournament. New Zealand used all their guile and experience to overcome a hungry, youthful South African side in Johannesburg today. Both head coaches can look back on this game with plenty of positives. Both teams show real attacking intent with ball in play and several glorious line breaks.
South Africa’s young players came to the fore. The center partnership of de Allende and Kriel has massive potential and Jean De Villiers has his work cut out to get his starting place back. Schalk Burger played superbly in the back row along with the abrasive Broussow. The lack of killer instinct from South Africa particularly when New Zealand were down to fourteen players was the difference tonight. The hosts had several opportunities to score a try to put the scoreboard out to ten points but a lack of composure in the red zone proved crucial. de Jager was incredibly unlucky not to go over from an marauding South African ruck, the maul is causing New Zealand massive issues as Argentina highlighted last weekend. Le Roux and Kriel’s tries were excellently taken. Le Roux was typical elusive from New Zealand tacklers while Kriel’s try was a spectacular running line which left Nonu and Smith grasping at fresh air.
Credit to New Zealand though. They never panic and their response today emphasized their experience and composure when required to close out this exhilarating contest. South Africa dominated large portions of this contest but when presented opportunities, New Zealand were their clinical best typified by the late opening period try. Sopoaga produced a sensational run through the midfield and then sent a great pass out wide to Ben Smith who ran around to score near the poles. Good teams score when it matters and the All Blacks check all the traits required. The yellow card of Whitelock should have seen South Africa put New Zealand to the sword but they failed to deliver the knock-out blow. Wondering why Burger decided not to contest scrums when the second half sin bin took place? Several scrums were deep in New Zealand territory and surely host pressure would have seen a penalty awarded. Burger for his personal player performance made a couple of questionable calls to go for the line instead of trusting Hougaard to slot home a couple of penalties particularly in the second half.
New Zealand soaked up the pressure and then produced the killer blow. Dane Coles pace was amazing, immense line break to draw New Zealand level at seventeen and then McCaw playing his last New Zealand game in South Africa scored after a sensational line out option to give the visitors the lead that were never going to relinquish. The game management of Smith and Sopoaga at the death was superb and the late conversion and penalty gave the scoreline more of a gloss for the visitors who will realize that this was an excellent encounter. South Africa youth and hunger will make them fierce opponents for anyone in the Rugby World Cup but New Zealand are a class apart at the moment. I question how Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland can compete with this intensity? When you see a Southern Hemisphere hooker running like a thirteen, enough said. Great contest.