The All Blacks have been going from strength to strength this year. Firstly they crushed the Wallabies in two tests to retain the Bledisloe Cup 38-13 and 40-12; then Argentina visited these shores for the first test match to be played at Trafalgar Park, Nelson, where they were beaten 46-24. Next, it was South Africa’s turn.
The Springboks test was in Wellington, and I’d booked our tickets ages ago to make sure we weren’t disappointed. The weather was looking good, so after parking in our usual secret spot we walked up to the stadium in plenty of time, to take advantage of the now somewhat improved catering available and grab a quick pre-match dinner. There were no Piri-burgers on sale this time, so we had lemon and garlic marinated chicken burgers instead. Then we took our seats, and let the action begin.
In the last few matches the ABs have been a bit slow to start – indeed, falling behind in the scoring for some time. Not this time, however, and Jordie Barrett dotted down in the first five minutes. The Boks came back with a try, and it was back and forth for a bit. But Beauden Barrett kept missing the conversions, and with the help of a penalty on half-time, the Springboks went in 24-17 ahead, although both teams had scored three tries.
In the second half, the tries came again in alternate fashion, with the Boks pulling away only to reeled in by the ABs. But they couldn’t quite draw equal, and with two further conversions going astray – Beauden hit the uprights twice – it was all coming down to the last five minutes, with the All Blacks camped out near the Springbok try line. Despite the obvious drop-goal opportunity, none was attempted, and instead a back-line move came from the ruck. With the All Blacks having a 3-on-2 overlap on the right side, Crotty…took the tackle instead of passing. The game ended with the Springboks ahead 36-34, despite having scored one fewer tries.
The wailing and gnashing of teeth, whilst predictable, was short-lived. Clearly, there are lessons to be learned here for the All Blacks. Post-match analysis showed at least three times when they had an overlap, but went to ground instead of passing the ball. Added to that, they gifted two tries to the Springboks, once with a poorly thought-out quick thrown-in, and once when they passed the ball to a man in green instead of a man in black. After dotting it down easily, he went back to thank the hapless Lienert-Brown who’d passed it to him.
According to some commentators, the championship is now “wide open”. Let’s be clear: for South Africa to win the championship (and they’re the only other team who can), the All Blacks need to not only lose their next two games, but South Africa have to win theirs AND score more bonus points than the ABs. It’s a statistical possibility, but hardly “wide open”. All that has happened is that the All Blacks have lost a match. It happens from time to time.