For the second week in succession, scrum half Herschel Jantjies was the Springboks’ good luck charm, scoring a last-minute try that not only saved his team’s blushes, but also got them a hard-earned Rugby Championship draw against New Zealand in Wellington yesterday.
Jantjies’ two tries got him the man of the match award against Australia on his debut last weekend.
Yesterday, he was brought on to replace Faf de Klerk, who was taken off in the 45th minute to assess a head injury, and did not leave – scoring the try the Boks needed to force an unlikely draw.
The Stormers man outleapt opposite number Aaron Smith in latching on to a Cheslin Kolbe chip ahead and scored in the 80th minute, with fly half Handré Pollard holding his nerve to score the conversion to level the scores.
Jantjies’ intervention went some way towards vindicating Bok coach Rassie Erasmus’ decision to send an advance party to prepare for the game last week and kept the South Africans in the lead in this year’s Rugby Championship.
The last-gasp effort also saved the Boks the embarrassment of losing after having dominated large periods of the game without much penetration in attack, and gave them a much-needed shot in the arm going into the World Cup opener against the same opponents in Japan.
Somewhat unusually for a game played in New Zealand, it was the South Africans who were the aggressors at the beginning of the game in a first half they would go on to finish with 55% possession and 61% of the territorial exchanges.
The biggest contributors to that state of affairs were decent ball retention to start with, the first sequence of which ended up in Pollard’s third-minute penalty to open the scoring and a rush defence, which gave the All Blacks’ ball carriers the hurry-up.
The Boks’ play was typified by centre Lukhanyo Am’s numerous spot tackles on Sonny Bill Williams and Jack Goodhue, and wee winger Kolbe putting his body on the line by launching himself at, and jolting, anything in black.
The immediate result of that for the All Blacks was uncharacteristic handling errors, which kept climbing throughout the game as they tried to make something out of nothing with the Boks breathing down their necks.
Yet, for all that dominance, the visitors found points hard to come by as first their attempts with ball in hand proved a little blunt – Am’s best work in this game was defensive, meaning he hardly saw the ball on the front foot – and then handling errors crept in as the first half wore on.
An example of these costly handling errors was captain Duane Vermeulen’s in the 37th minute inside the All Blacks’ half with the Boks attacking.
The result was a Jack Goodhue try after the lost ball was shovelled to fullback Beauden Barrett, who outpaced Am and fed the outside centre to do the same to winger Makazole Mapimpi to open the scoring for the hosts.
Hooker Malcolm Marx’s missing of his first two line-out throws had the ripple effect of making the Boks a little wary of going for the rolling maul.
Having scored just before half-time, the hosts came out in the second half with a discernible lift in intensity, better cleaning at the rucks and their scrum even mangled its Boks’ counterparts for a kickable penalty Barrett used to increase the lead.
Yet, for all that, the visiting defence just wouldn’t go away, the relentlessness of its line speed inducing more handling errors and a heroic ruck penalty just in front of their try line by replacement flanker Francois Louw keeping the Boks in it.
Two other forward replacements, prop Trevor Nyakane and lock RG Snyman, made a definitive impact, the former wresting back a measure of scrum dominance and the latter injecting fluidity with his thrust and offload style.
Two late Richie Mo’unga penalties seemed to have given the hosts the necessary cushion to win the game. But, a bit like the Aussies last week, they’d reckoned without Jantjies.
. In another Rugby Championship game played yesterday, Australia held off Argentina 16-10 in Brisbane.
The Boks sit on top of the shortened competition’s standings on seven points, a point ahead of the All Blacks with a round remaining. The Wallabies are two points adrift and the Pumas are last on two bonus points. – City Press correspondent