All Blacks too strong for Boks

New Zealand survived an early onslaught by the Springboks to win their opening match in Yokohama, Japan, yesterday. Picture: Rebecca Naden / REUTERS
New Zealand survived an early onslaught by the Springboks to win their opening match in Yokohama, Japan, yesterday. Picture: Rebecca Naden / REUTERS

The Springboks will have to take the low road to win their third Rugby World Cup title after losing their blockbuster opening game against defending champions New Zealand in Yokohama yesterday.

Having started a physical, intense and high-octane game as the better side, Rassie Erasmus’ men failed to capitalise on the initial opportunities they created in the first 15 minutes. They conceded two converted tries in fewer than five minutes when the momentum shifted and struggled to successfully chase the game despite outscoring the All Blacks 10-6 in the second half.

The result was that Siya Kolisi and his men were handed the tough task of having to make history by becoming the first team to win the World Cup after losing a group game, while Steve Hansen’s men shot a warning across the world that news of their supposed demise was greatly exaggerated.

As smart and as opportunistic as the All Blacks were – their two tries to one victory now means they lead Pool B – they were aided and abetted by both the Springboks and French referee Jérôme Garcès.

During a first quarter of an hour in which the Boks were well and truly on top, they failed to capitalise by only emerging from that period with a solitary penalty from fly half Handré Pollard. Had they been able to cap off the pressure they had built with ball in hand on two occasions during which they carried close to 10 phases, they may have punctured the “attitude and intent” Hansen had demanded of the All Blacks.

Read: Rassie's Boks eye World Cup smash and grab

But not only did they not manage that (Pollard also missed a penalty during that time), they also gave the world champions’ defence belief that they could be blunted. As soon as that happened, it was the Boks’ confidence that got dented.

First, they began spilling the high ball – number eight Duane Vermeulen’s miss ultimately led to winger George Bridge’s 24th-minute try, and Pollard ended up in the hard-grafting lock Scott Barrett’s score three minutes later – and then their own kicking game fell apart.

The kicking by halfbacks Faf de Klerk and Pollard was less a kicking game than it was an exercise in giving the ball away – that’s how inaccurate it was.

For their part, the All Blacks were patient in riding out the storm of the Boks’ initial intensity and were clinical once the wheel turned in their favour, an incidence that had more to do with fullback Beauden Barrett turning up at fly half to make the pressure tell.

The defence, an underrated aspect of the All Blacks’ play – especially in the rolling maul – held, and there were some eye-catching performances by blindside flanker Ardie Savea and lock Barrett, who were a nuisance at the breakdown and workaholic in all areas, respectively.

As Hansen said of the Boks after the game, “they never go away”, and so they scored through the tireless flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, who picked up from an unguarded ruck and cantered over.

But the story of that second half revival was winger Cheslin Kolbe’s performance.

At 1.71m and 80kg, Kolbe took to the field as the smallest man on the field. Yet he was head and shoulders above every Springbok, carrying them to what had seemed to be an improbable victory.

All Blacks haka. Picture: Supplied/ (Getty Images)

Kolbe, the lone Bok who did admirable work under the high ball, ran, tackled and stepped himself to a standstill, getting tackled just inches from the try line and being denied by a shocking bounce pass from Willie le Roux from scoring from the second opportunity.

Another significant contributor to the All Blacks’ win was referee Garcès.

There was much talk in the build-up about how referees allow the world champions to get away with murder, but, by the end, the Boks had lost six out of six games against the All Blacks officiated by the Frenchman.

Garcès missed regulation knock-ons, guessed at scrums and gave unfathomable penalties in an officiating performance that did its bit to get the world champions over the line. The Boks’ next match is against Namibia on Saturday.

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