The most expected of victories
July 30, 2011
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw holds aloft the Freedom Cup after Saturday's win in Wellington © Getty Images
There were few surprises at the Westpac on Saturday night. South Africa arrived in Wellington without a total of 21 players out through 'injury' and received a 40-7 beating at the hands of New Zealand.
So, in that context, it would be foolish to draw too many concrete conclusions from a game which served to pretty much underline several things that we already knew: the All Blacks are the number one side in the world, blessed with a strength in depth that their rivals can but envy; Dan Carter is one of the finest fly-halves that the game has ever seen; and the Springboks' play is worryingly one-dimensional. In saying that, though, lessons were learned.
New Zealand were in many ways on a hiding to nothing given that they were facing something of a South African 'B' team. However, one could not help but be impressed with the way in which they went about their business and dispatching what was placed in front of them. Their performance was hardly flawless - they lost concentration in the second quarter, allowing the Boks back into the game at a time when they should have been putting them to the sword - but one could not help but be impressed by their work-rate and the pace at which they played the game, particularly in the opening 20 minutes. Indeed, the Boks simply could not cope with New Zealand's dynamism in the opening quarter. They attacked relentlessly, keeping the ball moving quickly with aggressive rucking and keeping it alive with wonderfully soft hands.
Dan Carter was, predictably, at the heart of everything positive they did on the front foot, the Crusaders ace showing blistering pace, tremendous awareness and flawless technique in creating Zac Guildford's first try of the evening. It was the boldness which preceded his terrific break which stood out, though, Carter playing the most beautifully-measured grubber from inside his own 22 into the path of Ma'a Nonu. There are few other players who would have had the confidence to attempt such a play - but then there are few other players who have the talent for reading the game like Carter. He might have struggled off the kicking tee, missing four conversion attempts, and he saw one kick down the line go straight into touch, but Carter oozed class throughout, repeatedly opening up the Springbok defence, and reclaiming the all-time points Test from Jonny Wilkinson was just reward for yet another virtuoso performance.
He was, though, ably supported in the New Zealand half-back line by Jimmy Cowan, who didn't put a foot wrong all night. The Kiwi No.9 was a constant source of quick ball for a lethal New Zealand back-line and also created the game's opening try with an initial burst before bumping John Smit out of his way and then having the wherewithal to spread the play to Conrad Smith, who put Wyatt Crockett over in the corner.
Elsewhere, Liam Messam, a man with something to prove after being dropped on the back of a substandard showing against Fiji, certainly impressed after coming on as a replacement, while Andrew Hore was outstanding throughout, his apparent omnipresence around the field one of the most remarkable features of the game.
The headlines will of course, though, be hogged by the wingers, Zac Guildford and Cory Jane. Guildford finished both of his tries well and created a third for Colin Slade late on but Jane was arguably the better of the two. Certainly, his was the greater success story as this is a player who many felt was fortunate to have even been included in the All Blacks' Tri-Nations squad on the back of a disappointing season with the Hurricanes. Then, after seeing his hopes of featuring against Fiji dashed by an injury, Jane must have felt that his World Cup dreams were in tatters. However, Henry named him on the wing and Jane rewarded his coach's faith in him with a fantastic display. He looked menacing right from the first whistle and when his chance came he took it with aplomb. There appeared very little on when Cowan flung a pass his way on 32 minutes but, spotting a mismatch and space in behind, he stepped beautifully inside the hapless Smit before then bursting pass the covering Morne Steyn to score a try which clearly meant so much to him, Jane beating his fist against the white fern on his chest as he walked towards the crowd to celebrate. His second try was a far easier finish but Jane reminded everyone - including himself perhaps - that he is a world-class winger.
While Jane enjoyed a day of redemption, Steyn, the man left trailing in his wake, endured another frustrating day at the office. Surprisingly repositioned at fullback to accommodate the inclusion of Patrick Lambie at fly-half, Steyn failed to make any real positive contribution to the game. The fact that Steyn's messed penalty attempt in the first half ended a run of 49 successful attempts on goal in the Tri-Nations only added to his misery. It always looked an ill-advised move on Peter de Villiers' part, to place a player in poor form and struggling for confidence in a position in which he had no previous Test-level experience, and so it proved. Steyn and Lambie repeatedly switched positions during the game - but to little effect. If anything, the tactic only served to add to the confusion in the Springbok back-line, thus exacerbating its complete ineffectiveness. Indeed, it was hardly a coincidence that the Sprinboks' only try came after a catch-and-drive, while their best break of the game came from replacement front-row Chiliboy Ralepelle.
Lambie slightly fared better than Steyn. The youngster struggled from an attacking perspective but was solid defensively, catching the eye with a number of big hits, the most notable of which came on Nonu - no mean feat, in fairness. In truth, though, there were very few positives for the Boks, with Juan de Jongh perhaps their star perfomer, the centre excelling in what were difficult circumstances.
South Africa boss de Villiers will perhaps take comfort in the fact that he has managed to blood a number of new players in the run-up to the World Cup and still has a plethora of key players to come back ahead of their home games in the Tri-Nations. However, the reigning World Cup champions do not appear where they want to be ahead of the defence of their crown.
The All Blacks, by complete contrast, could not be better placed.
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