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All Blacks beat Boks in thriller to underline task awaiting Ireland in quarters

Steve Hansen’s men won the game with a stunning flurry of points in the first half.

New Zealand 23

South Africa 13

WE SCARCELY DESERVED a game as enjoyable as this on just the second day of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, particularly given the brilliance of the two before it.

With a fervent crowd of 63,649 South Africans, Kiwis, Japanese, Scots and Irish – they blasted out The Fields in the second half – watching on in Yokohama and the world tuning in on TV, this thrilling Pool B encounter lived up to the billing.

We witnessed one of those stunning All Blacks blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shifts of gear in which they scored two tries in a flash and should have had a third in a sublime five-minute passage that ultimately decided the game, bringing them 17 points and ripping momentum from the Boks after a strong start had left Rassie Erasmus’ side 3-0 up.

the-new-zealand-team-during-the-haka The All Blacks were superb in Yokohama. Source: Craig Mercer/INPHO

Numbers on backs mean nothing when the All Blacks are in that mood, with their complete skillsets allowing forwards to play first receiver and backs to clear rucks. There are few joys in rugby like seeing the Kiwis open up in the manner they did for George Bridge and Scott Barrett’s first-half turnover tries.

We also had the utter delight of Springboks wing Cheslin Kolbe’s acceleration and dancing feet producing linebreaks, moments of awesome power from the Boks forwards, and a second-half fightback from Erasmus’ men, briefly bringing them back to within four points.

But the All Blacks had the greater composure and class from key men like Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga – whose 10-15 combination is only improving with each game – and Steve Hansen’s men also edged the kicking battle. Their forward pack may not have the sheer size of the Boks, but their mobility and intelligence are unparalleled.

The Boks’ linespeed is hugely aggressive, yet the clever Kiwis were able to find space beyond the edge of their rush with delicate kicks, floated passes, and patience.

This was a performance that underlined the All Blacks’ deserved favouritism to win this World Cup and while the Boks will have big regrets about the manner in which they turned the ball over during that spellbinding flurry of Kiwi brilliance in the opening half, they demonstrated that they are contenders too.

Watching on at their team hotel ahead of their Pool A opener against Scotland at this venue tomorrow, Joe Schmidt’s Ireland got a deeper appreciation of how difficult their possible quarter-final in Japan is going to be, with one of the Boks and All Blacks awaiting.

After winning here, the All Blacks should stroll to the top of Pool B, meaning Ireland would be more likely to face the Boks if they can finish first in Pool A.

Whoever it is waiting in the quarter-finals, Ireland will likely require their best-ever World Cup performance to make history and reach the semis for the first time. 

sevu-reece-with-makazole-mapimpi Sevu Reece was excellent for the Kiwis. Source: Craig Mercer/INPHO

Everything seemed to be going according to plan for the Boks in the first quarter as they controlled the match, scoring three early points after prop Steven Kitshoff won a turnover penalty, allowing out-half Handré Pollard to slot the points from long-range.

The Boks’ defence was very much on top as they delivered jaw-dropping physicality in the tackle and seemed to be smothering the Kiwis.

Huge carries from Damian de Allende and Eben Etzebeth led to another penalty – this time for offside – but Pollard missed a straightforward shot from a central position, denying the Boks scoreboard return for their pressure game.

Then everything changed in the blink of an eye. Faf de Klerk threw a pass to ground off a Boks lineout platform, Mo’unga hacked it ahead and gathered on the run, only to be dragged down from behind by Makazole Mapimpi.

A Kiwi try seemed certain as they recycled, only for one of the Boks to stretch out an arm from what looked like an offside position, sending the ball to ground. Kieran Read appealed for the penalty try but Jerome Garces ignored him and Mo’unga instead leveled the game at 3-3 from the tee.

Suddenly, the All Blacks were everywhere, scoring those two tries in three minutes.

George Bridge won back a box kick to spark the first, with Mo’unga cross-kicking for Sevu Reece over on the right touchline, the Fijian bursting into space before turning a pass inside to the hard-working Aaron Smith, who in turn found Ardie Savea.

george-bridge-scores-a-try-despite-willie-le-roux Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Savea was tackled inside the 22, but Smith hit the breakdown and Ryan Crotty slotted into halfback, allowing the ball to be shifted into midfield, where Beauden Barrett darted between prop Frans Malherbe and lock Etzebeth to offload to Bridge for the finish.

Mo’unga converted and the All Blacks had another try before the Boks had caught their breath. Pollard lost the aerial contest, spilling the ball back to the Kiwis, who played through the phases before hooker Dane Coles’ footwork and basketball-style pass gave Anton Lienert-Brown time in possession.

The midfielder stepped inside off his left and scythed between Boks hooker Malcolm Marx and lock Franco Mostert to break up towards the South African 22, where he drew and passed to Kiwi second row Scott Barrett for the score.

Mo’unga’s conversion left the All Blacks 17-3 to the good and they were now dominant in the air against the Boks, who were left reeling by the stunning momentum shift.

Mo’unga missed a penalty shot in the closing minutes of the half and the Boks had one final visit into their 22 but Pieter-Steph du Toit dropped the ball to cap a desperate second quarter for Erasmus’ side.

The Boks were down, but not out. They came out of the blocks strongly in the second half and a superb break from Kolbe, fielding a high ball and beating Smith, would have led to a try but for the sensational saving tackle of Mo’unga as Kolbe looked to slalom past him and into the right corner. 

Mo’unga dove to tackle and Kolbe loosely offload inside, where Barrett gathered behind his own tryline to spark a counter-attack that ended up back in Boks hands, from where they ground into patient phases in the Kiwi 22.

pieter-steph-du-toit-scores-a-try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Eventually, the door opened as du Toit cleverly picked at the base of the breakdown and, seeing no one in front of him, strolled in from 10 metres out, with Pollard’s conversion bringing the Boks back to 17-10. 

Now it was Erasmus’ side with their tails up. A clever carry and inside pass from Duane Vermeulen freed de Klerk to break in the 54th minute, the scrum-half linking outside to Willie le Roux but the fullback’s pass for Kolbe was too low, halting the attack.

The All Blacks still needed an excellent tackle from Ofa Tuungafasi and then a turnover from Lienert-Brown to repel the Boks in that passage, the latter sparking another thrilling counter from the All Blacks.

But Pollard drew the Boks closer with a superb drop-goal from 45 metres out with advantage being played, only for the Kiwis to re-open the seven-point gap when their scrum won a penalty that Mo’unga nudged over with 13 minutes remaining – his last act before Ben Smith came on and Barrett shifted into out-half.

Barrett was on the mark when he had his first shot at goal in the 72nd minute, the Boks coming offside and allowing the Kiwis to get some breathing room with a 10-point advantage that they clung onto, denying the Boks a losing bonus point in the process.

New Zealand scorers:

Tries: George Bridge, Scott Barrett

Conversions: Richie Mo’unga [2 from 2]

Penalties: Richie Mo’unga [2 from 3], Beauden Barrett [1 from 1]

South Africa scorers:

Tries: Pieter-Steph du Toit

Conversions: Handré Pollard [1 from 1]

Penalties: Handré Pollard [1 from 2]

Drop goalHandré Pollard

NEW ZEALAND: Beauden Barrett; Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty (Sonny Bill Williams ’51), George Bridge; Richie Mo’unga (Ben Smith ’67), Aaron Smith (TJ Perenara ’62); Joe Moody (Ofa Tuungafasi ’51), Dane Coles (Codie Taylor ‘HT), Nepo Laulala (Angus Ta’avao ’51); Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett; Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (Patrick Tuipulotu ’41), Kieran Read (captain).

SOUTH AFRICA: Willie Le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am (Jesse Kriel ’57), Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk (Herschel Jantjies ’72); Steven Kitshoff (Tendai Mtawarira ’68), Malcolm Marx (Bongi Mbonambi ’62), Frans Malherbe (Trevor Nyakane ’55 – reversal ’77); Eben Etzebeth (RG Snyman ’70), Franco Mostert; Siya Kolisi (captain) (Francois Louw ’51), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: Frans Steyn.

Referee: Jerome Garces [France]. 

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from International Stadium Yokohama

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