17 Aug

All Blacks Win In A Breeze
by Paul Waite
17 Aug 2008

The swirling winds of Newlands, Capetown swatted three Dan Carter penalty kicks plus a conversion wide of the uprights denying the All Blacks 14 points, but a gutsy all-round performance still got them an historic 19-0 victory over their old foes the Springboks on their own turf.

It was a good result, but it was a very frustrating test to watch. The All Blacks were guilty of slipping backwards in several areas, and this was compounded by Carter failing to nail a conversion followed by three penalty kicks which looked to be meat and drink to the normally World-class place-kicker.

However when Percy Montgomery, playing in his 100th test, also missed a couple of penalties from the same position it became obvious that the culprit was probably the swirling Newlands breeze, which is fairly notorious. It may have been a lack of confidence engendered by the previous three attempts, but a second half shot that Carter took didn’t even have the distance, so it seems that he wasn’t connecting with the ball that well as he usually does.

The All Blacks struck early, scoring a try in the 7th minute when Richie McCaw scooped up a slightly wild wide pass from Cowan from a ruck and out to the left, and then put in a perfectly weighted grubber behind the Bok defence, which the ever vigilant Conrad Smith swooped into the corner and skilfully forced with his forearm just before Butch James could cover.

With the conversion missed, the All Blacks then remained stuck on 5-0 for what seemed like a lifetime of test matches. Penalty shots came, were missed and then went with no change on the scoreboard. Springbok skipper Victor Matfield became as angry and petulant as a pouty 2.08m schoolboy with the referee over his rulings at the breakdown, where the South Africans were constantly playing the ball on the ground, and coming in from the side. At one point he told Goddard he was only refereeing one team which, unsurprisingly, failed to change the referee’s mind. In the parallel universe our Matfield thinks he lives in:

Victor: "Kak! you is only refereeing one team here, poephol!"
Goddard (after pause to think): "By Jove, I do believe you are right Victor, I’ll fix that up right away!"

Matfield would have been better off advising his players to play to the Laws of the game, but that course of action didn’t seem to occur to him, much to the detriment of the Springbok effort, and the advantage of the All Blacks.

With the missed penalties the All Blacks lost 14 points, and the game remained a tightly contested affair until late. The pace of the first half saw enough rugby played at stupendous pace to fill a full 80 minutes of a normal Northern Hemisphere 6N test. This came at a cost, and the pace noticeably fell off in the second spell, and particularly in the final quarter.

Putting the final result to one side for a moment, the All Blacks failed to achieve Richie McCaw’s avowed aims prior to the game, that they should keep to the standard of the Eden Park victory over Australia. In particular they failed to put pressure on their kicks, the defence was guilty of standing off too much, and support at the breakdown was somewhat patchy and disorganised, admittedly without being quite as bad as it has been.

With the kicking, every kick we sent to the Boks saw the receiver enjoying all of the time and space they needed to either return it, pass or run into support. Conversely, with the kicks the All Blacks got, the receiver was getting ball and then the man just a second or two after, which is the way it should be.

Apart from on the goal-line, the defence was also slightly below par. The All Blacks tended to stand off too much and failed to force the issue. As a result they let the Boks run through them too much, and a more patient effort from them would have seen one or two tries come from those opportunities. In the second half things improved, but a lot of that was due to the energy of the game ebbing, due to the pace of the first 40 minutes. Luckily for the All Blacks the Boks were playing in the mode of pushing the pass too far, and kept losing control of the ball at critical moments. But on another day New Zealand would have been punished for their sins.

At the ruck support was for the most part reasonable. It certainly wasn’t the worst performance from the All Blacks in this department, but it wasn’t superb either. There was a distinct impression of them being a bit light in numbers on occasion, and some structure and momentum was lost as a result.

Carter also attempted two poor drop-goal shots. The execution was sub-standard, given the knowledge that the Boks were always going to be up on him like a rash. He didn’t stand deep enough, took too much time, and got charged down twice. The All Blacks were darned lucky not to concede a try from one of those.

Finally, Jimmy Cowan and Brad Thorn deserve a special mention, and both of them should share a DoM (Dickhead of the Match) award. First Cowan launched a blatant shoulder charge on a Springbok winger to send him out in touch right in front of Wayne "Yes That Joker" Barnes, who (this time) quite correctly came in and forced the issue with Goddard to give the penalty. Then shortly afterwards in another passage of play Thorn deliberately stepped across into the path of the Bok halfback and knocked him flat. That’s just absolute rubbish, and we don’t want All Blacks even thinking about it, never mind actually doing it. It cost the All Blacks two penalties (not converted, as it happened) and it was just shite. I hope Henry has "a word in their ears" because it isn’t bloody good enough.

Despite his off day kicking from tee, Dan Carter came through for the All Blacks and nailed the test late in the second half with a wonderful piece of magic to step and slip through under the posts, and then dab the ball to ground behind him over his head, while on his back. It was just the kind of mercurial rugby that was needed to bust what was a very strong Bok defensive effort, as always, and it essentially put the test match to bed as far as the result was concerned.

Whilst 19-0 is a very satisfying final scoreline, it was blown out by a 7-pointer which came from a mixture of desperation and brain-explosion by the Boks in their own 22m, where they effectively tried some miracle passes and Mealamu ended up intercepting and going over. A more fitting score would have therefore been 12-0, but we here in New Zealand won’t complain too loudly, especially after that jammy get-out-of-jail win the Boks blagged off us in Dunedin!

So well done to the All Blacks on a great win. It doesn’t come any harder than playing away on South African soil in the cauldron of Newlands, and especially when one of their own in the form of Percy Montgomery is playing in his 100th test match. To win the test to Nil is even more of an achievement.

Finally congratulations to Percy. We might have laughed hard at the hairdo on past occasions, and loved seeing him struggle under a garryowen coming down with ice on it, but he’s been a great player to watch over the years, has some lovely skills running and kicking the ball, and congratulations to him for that achievement.

The All Blacks now have the challenge of vegetating for three weeks whilst the South Africans host the Wallabies for two consequetive tests at home. We will see how they emerge from that lay-off to go to Brisbane and try to nail the Bledisloe Cup for 2008.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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