Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert highlights FIVE talking points following the Springboks’ agonising 32-30 defeat to the All Blacks at Loftus Versfeld.
1. Questionable Bok substitutions
A major talking point following the game was whether Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus had erred with his choice of substitutions in the second half.
The Boks threw away a 30-13 lead after 59 minutes and many - myself included - felt the rash of substitutions had disrupted the team’s rhythm.
Erasmus’ first substitution came straight after the Boks had leapt into a 30-13 lead, with Vincent Koch replacing Frans Malherbe at tighthead prop.
And then a minute after the All Blacks reduced the deficit to 30-18 in the 61st minute, RG Snyman replaced Eben Etzebeth at lock.
Over the next 11 minutes, the Boks made a further five substitutions (Damian Willemse for Willie le Roux - 65min; Sikhumbuzo Notshe for Francois Louw - 69min; Embrose Papier for Faf de Klerk (72nd min); Bongi Mbonambi for Malcolm Marx (72nd min) and Tendai Mtawarira for Steven Kitshoff (73rd min).
The All Blacks scored again in the 75th minute and by the time Elton Jantjies came on for Damian de Allende in the 77th minute, the Boks seemingly had no more momentum.
Erasmus said he was forced to replace key playmakers Le Roux and De Klerk due to injuries, but the timing of the other replacements should be questioned.
2. The stats again favour the losing side
For the third Test in a row involving the Springboks, the team that dominated key statistics ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
The Springboks dominated possession (59%) and territory (61%), made more metres on attack (384m compared to 219), made more ball carries (115 v 68), beat 25 defenders to New Zealand’s 14, made 7 clean breaks to 4 and completed 133 passes to 73.
As such, the visitors were forced to make 115 tackles and South Africa a meagre 70.
But we all know it’s the final score that matters!
3. The Springbok-All Blacks rivalry is back!
Once Springbok fans get over the disappointment of the defeat at Loftus, they should take solace from the team’s efforts against their old rivals in 2018.
The 32-30 final score, coupled with the Boks' 36-34 victory margin in Wellington earlier in the tournament, saw the sides 'draw' 66-all in this year's tournament.
It’s a far cry from the lows of 57-0 from a year ago in Albany and Saturday’s capacity crowd of 50 168 is proof that this rivalry is by no means dead.
4. Rassie vindicated by Faf, Willie call-ups
The Springboks produced a tactical masterclass for large parts on Saturday, with scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and fullback Willie le Roux pulling the strings with aplomb.
De Klerk’s tactical kicking has improved markedly and both he and Le Roux’s decision making was spot on for most parts on Saturday.
There's no doubt that their injury-enforced absences late in the Test proved vital.
Coach Erasmus will feel vindicated by his decision to pick the English-based duo this season!
5. The All Blacks are never down and out
One lesson the Springboks would have learnt on Saturday is that the All Blacks are never down and out.
You simply cannot afford to drop your guard against the world's No 1-ranked side. At 23-6 up, the Boks relaxed for a mere moment and a few seconds later Aaron Smith crossed the whitewash.
Again, within two minutes after the Boks went 30-13 up, the All Blacks hit back.
The Springboks did everything but win this Test and it reminded me of a game in Dublin in 2013 when Ireland should have put the All Blacks away.
Irish flyhalf Johnny Sexton missed an easy late penalty which would have given his side an unassailable 25-17 lead with a minute left on the clock. Sexton’s miss gave the All Blacks a lifeline and they went the length of the field to score and snatch a 24-22 win.
The moral of the story is you cannot afford any soft moments against New Zealand.
The All Blacks’ year would have been ruined had they lost twice to the Boks. No other result would have mattered and the Boks let slip a golden opportunity to gain the mental upper hand heading into a World Cup year...