Skipper’s 100th cap a grim memory

2010-08-23 00:00

IT happened in a flash, but Springbok captain John Smit’s dream turned into a nightmare as the All Blacks scored two tries in three minutes to turn a five-point deficit into a 29-22 Tri-Nations win in Soweto on Saturday evening.

A massive crowd of over 90 000 were in the Calabash to see the Springboks turn their season around against the old enemy and celebrate Smit’s 100th Test. And, for 77 minutes, it seemed they would have their wish.

But the tiring Boks could not finish what they had started, and the All Blacks, who refused to lie down, scored 12 points in a late rush for victory.

The All Blacks were perhaps fortunate to score the first of the two tries (to level the scores) with a forward pass in the build-up and then a favourable TMO call as captain Richie McCaw somehow squeezed in at the corner.

But, with the scores locked at 22-22 in the 79th minute, the attacking Boks lost the ball at the breakdown, Smit missed a tackle on All Black centre Ma’a Nonu and replacement Israel Dagg scored the winning try.

Smit, battered and bleeding, was devastated and so was his wife Roxy, who was openly sobbing while clutching their bewildered young children in the grandstand.

The Bok captain was quick to accept responsibility and told the media he would be haunted by the missed tackle and the defeat “for a very long time.

“I don’t think I have ever been more disappointed to lose a game,” an emotional Smit said. “To miss the tackle that cost us the game in my 100th Test is bad.”

Of course, a world-class attacking centre like Nonu would expect to beat a burly front-row forward in a one-on-one challenge in midfield, but Smit was in no mood for excuses.

“We controlled the game well in the first half, but weren’t accurate enough in the second when we made too many errors like missing touch and giving away a few penalties,” he added. “When we lost control of our own game, we lost the match.”

Bok coach Peter de Villiers refused to echo Smit’s sentiments and was positive in his reaction to the defeat.

“John is taking this way too personally. What I saw was that we can beat any team on any given day. But well done to the All Blacks, they are deserved winners of the Tri-Nations and they have played a very entertaining style of rugby.”

While visiting teams generally battle to play at altitude, the All Blacks finished far stronger than the Boks. All Black coach Graham Henry paid tribute to the fitness levels of his players.

“It doesn’t get any bigger than that. To play in front of that crowd in this stadium is very special and this is a very special win for the All Blacks.”

All Black captain Richie McCaw agreed and said that signs that the Boks were tiring at half-time had encouraged his players.

See also page 18.

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