The Springboks were left to rue a poor first half as they went down 23-13 to the All Backs in their opening Pool B World Cup clash in Yokohama on Saturday.
That, at least, was the diplomatic way to put it.
But the dominant theme in the aftermath in this game will be how French referee Jerome Garces delivered yet another frustratingly inconsistent performance with the whistle, continuing a “tradition” of seemingly disadvantaging the Boks.
Nonetheless, the All Blacks deserve credit for punishing some sloppy defending in the second quarter to make the game safe, while the South Africa missed several opportunities in a second half, where the high humidity seemed to catch up with both teams in front of more than 70 000 spectators.
Who was the star in this match?
Bok right wing Cheslin Kolbe was nothing short of superb and by some distance the team’s best player in the air. There were at least two instances where he came on the verge of scoring by fielding a high ball and going on his weaving runs. He was also typically brave on defence.
Key moments and themes
- After the Springboks dominated the opening quarter with some pragmatic, patient rugby, the All Blacks struck a critical blow in the 24th minute when wing George Bridge rounded off a splendid move, which was started by flyhalf Richie Mo’unga’s deft cross-chip. Wing Seevu Reece then exploited opposite number Makazole Mapimi’s poor tackle, Beauden Barrett broke the line and off-loaded.
- Just three minutes later, a botched catch by pivot Handre Pollard allowed All Black centre Anton Lienert-Brown to ghost past four defenders before finding lock Scott Barrett. That gave the world champions at 17-3 lead and seemingly knocked the stuffing out of the Boks.
- The Springboks though came out with renewed purpose and had the upper hand for extended periods, even scoring a fine try through flank Pieter-Steph du Toit to get themselves back in the game. Yet the mistakes continued to pile up, one particular painful moment being fullback Willie le Roux’s shocking pass to Kolbe with the tryline at their mercy.
- Garces truly was a baffling presence. His policing of the breakdowns was patently shocking, allowing the All Blacks to stray offside time and again, while also gifting a vital scrum penalty to the New Zealanders with the Boks on the attack despite Ardie Savea “winning” the ball with one knee on the ground. The scrums also became nothing more than a guessing game.
- There are injury clouds hanging over a tearful Trevor Nyakane, who seemingly injured the same knee as was the case against Japan, while Du Toit’s knee also didn’t look like a picture of health.
All Blacks – Tries: George Bridge, Scott Barrett. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (2). Penalties: Mo’unga (2), Beauden Barrett.
Springboks – Try: Pieter-Steph du Toit. Conversion: Handre Pollard. Penalty: Pollard. Drop goal: Pollard.