Last Gasp Try Sinks Springboks!
by Paul Waite
25 Jul 2004
Over the past decade, as All Black fans, we’ve become so accustomed to watching the team lose important tests in the dying minutes or even seconds to Australia (various Bledisloes) and the Springboks (the ’95 World Cup drop-goal), that it’s a very strange feeling when Lady Luck swings back in our favour.
There’s a moment of fist-in-the-air, ferocious “suck on that, you losers” joy, followed by a vague feeling of guilt. It’s probably a kind of heart-felt empathy, with us all being so in tune with what they must be feeling. Anyway, it only lasted about 12 seconds, so it isn’t much of a worry.
As with any test, there are positives and negatives. The positives are firstly the win of course, closely followed by what the win was based on – our continued development of the set-pieces. Without these, we wouldn’t have had all the possesion to squander before finally nailing a try in the last 30 seconds.
The negatives were, however manifold, as evidenced by a very quiet, almost defensive performance from the coaches in the after-match press conference.
The forwards did not front up for the first half at all. They played like worried men, constantly looking at what the opposition were doing instead of getting stuck in and asking hard questions. Mauls were ponderously formed, and driven without belief, inevitably getting nowhere. Players driving the ball up were left stranded as tight-forwards ball-watched then, realising they should be helping, rushed in to rescue the pill just in the nick of time, and thereby nullifying the go-forward effort. The much talked-about flat-backline approach of Wayne Smith just resulted in the creation of a narrow war-zone of futility, where all the All Blacks’ attacking options were nullified. In short, during the first 40 minutes the team were flat as a pancake, playing the wrong tactics, and being soundly beaten.
Part and parcel of the diffident, almost apologetic approach to the game was the dopey defensive effort which saw us leak three tries, all of which were eminently preventable, resulting as they did from gross mistakes rather than Springbok pressure and/or out and out skill. With all due respect to a fired-up South African team, two out of those three tries had no business being scored against an All Black side worth it’s salt – they were genuinely “soft”.
All Black captain Tana Umaga confirmed after the game that the team had been given “the talking to” in the half-time interval, and the result was a much tighter and more concerted effort from the forwards.
The Springboks tactics were simple but effective. They had come with the idea of pushing the offside rules past the limit in order to quench the All Blacks’ wide game, and were prepared to commit professional fouls every time the All Blacks looked like getting in a scoring position inside their 22m. Not original tactics by any means, but implemented with superb effectiveness in this test.
The ONLY way to nullify these tactics when the referee, as in this case, is letting the opposition get away with offside tactics, is to smash the ball up the guts through the forwards and/or use your first-five eighth to support with a tactical kicking game. Since Carlos Spencer doesn’t have a tactical kicking game, and was keen on running sideways before shovelling a hospital pass into Dan Carter’s hands so he could be nicely creamed by the defence all night, the only option was the hard yakka.
History shows that it took until the last quarter of the match before the penny dropped loudly enough for the All Blacks to make a fist of it and drive well enough to create the try they needed.
Before that, the aforementioned Springbok professional infringements had kept the men in Black in the hunt via Dan Carter’s boot, and there were only three points between the teams with minutes to go. In the end the winning of this test came off the back of a mistake and a triumph.
The All Blacks drove the ball to within 5m, then made their (by now) usual mistake and knocked it on, conceding a scrum. This is where the set-piece development came to the fore, as the All Blacks scrum took the Springbok unit apart bulldozing it to rubble and going over the top of it to win a turnover put-in.
After that it took 15 phases to wear the desperate Bok defence down to the point where an overlap was created, and which Carlos Spencer, in his only good moment of the test threw a wobbly pass out to Mils Muliaina who handed off to Doug Howlett to score and win the test in the final 30 seconds of time.
New Zealand hospitals no doubt experienced a huge surge in Emergency Admissions just after the final whistle, and pacemaker manufacturers were probably rubbing their hands together with glee at the anticipated increased sales.
Despite the cliff-hanger result it definitely wasn’t one of rugby’s classics, this test, and the All Black coaches have plenty to work on before taking on Australia in Sydney in two weeks.
The old refrain “a win is a win, and we’ll take it” comes to mind.