Boks, All Blacks: Their neutral-soil duels revisited

All Blacks v Springboks (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)
All Blacks v Springboks (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Cape Town – A skimpy 3.06 percent … that is how many Tests between the Springboks and All Blacks have been slugged out on neutral turf.

It will rise – very slightly – to 4.04 percent after Saturday’s RWC 2019 Pool B-opening encounter in Yokohama, Japan.

But the vast majority of 98 bilateral clashes thus far (95) have been played in either of the two countries: South Africa boast a tenuous 25-24 lead on our soil (with one draw), while New Zealand are comfortably ahead 32-10 (three draws) on theirs, and lead the overall bragging rights 58-36.

While the Boks won the first ever neutral-staged encounter (Test No 54 between them) in Wales in 1999, the All Blacks have fought back in the next two to assume a 2-1 lead on that front.

Here is a short recap of the “collector’s item” trio of Tests NOT contested in SA or NZ:

South Africa 22 New Zealand 18 (Cardiff, November 1999)

Nick Mallett’s only World Cup as head coach … and the Boks came very close to winning it, only being ousted in extra time in their gripping semi-final with eventual champions the Wallabies.

Pretty good consolation, however, was ending on a high by pipping old foes the All Blacks (themselves knocked out against the odds by France) to bronze medal in the playoff at the Millennium Stadium.

Defences largely won the night, though the lone try was a thing of unusual beauty: wing Breyton Paulse, in the 27th minute, put through a deft chip in his own half, and then booted the ball onward twice more against a momentarily disorganised NZ defence before winning a dice with desperate Christian Cullen to the dot-down.

While Durban-born Andrew Mehrtens always kept the All Blacks in the hunt with his string of penalties (six), the Boks also prospered in pot-shots at the posts, including a very useful brace of dropped goals – one each half – from fullback Percy Montgomery.

*Current Bok coach Rassie Erasmus had started on the open-side flank for South Africa.

New Zealand 29 South Africa 9 (Melbourne, November 2003)

RWC 2003 was one of the least auspicious ones by these Rudolf Straeuli-era Boks … and they were comfortably beaten by the old enemy in this quarter-final, after ending second in their pool to eventual tournament winners England.

Tries by Leon MacDonald, Keven Mealamu and Joe Rokocoko paved the way for the triumph, with a post-Staaldraad South Africa’s lone response a trio of penalties from then 20-year-old flyhalf Derick Hougaard.

The impartial BBC report at the time correctly noted that the Boks were “outmuscled by a powerful Kiwi pack” and there were “moments of individual brilliance … especially from (NZ pivot) Carlos Spencer”.

Though a little raw at the time, the 2003 experience was nevertheless an educative one for the likes of John Smit, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw, just four years onward to be wiser and steelier and hoisting the Webb Ellis Cup themselves …

New Zealand 20 South Africa 18 (London, October 2015)

The Heyneke Meyer-coached Boks of the last World Cup had done incredibly well to bounce back from the Japan debacle at Brighton at the outset of RWC 2015 and advance to a massive semi-final against a particularly formidable NZ outfit of the time.

On a sometimes rain-lashed day at Twickenham, though, South Africa could do little more than hold on against the best team in the world: few could dispute that the result went the correct way, especially as the All Blacks (Jerome Kaino, Beauden Barrett) notched the only two tries.

Still, the fact that Handre Pollard (five) and later Pat Lambie (one) ensured a 100 percent record in penalty cracks at the posts meant the Boks were almost always in the game in pure scoreboard terms despite being pinned back territorially for long periods.

The match marked the farewell appearance for legendary Bok scrumhalf and acting captain Fourie du Preez after 76 Tests, although the rest of the troops went on to earn bronze by beating Argentina.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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