Five things we learned from Eden Park
September 14, 2013
Sam Cane was immense for the All Blacks © Getty Images
The All Blacks are still undefeated in the 2013 Rugby Championship, but their 29-15 win over the Springboks in Auckland on Saturday did not pass without incident or controversy. Far from it. ESPNscrum picks out five talking points from the fiery affair in New Zealand.
Errors of judgment ruin matches
Oh, Romain Poite, what have you done? This had all the signs of being an epic tussle, but then came the moment that changed the outcome of the game. Bismarck du Plessis clattered into Dan Carter in the 15th minute, leaving the fly-half prone on the ground holding his right shoulder. The sight of Carter stricken is something no one in rugby wants to witness, but the tackle from du Plessis was legal. However, Poite, who had watched the incident back on the big screen after referring the subsequent handbags to the TMO, still carded du Plessis. Poite The gave the hooker another yellow card in the second-half - this time it was the correct decision - but of course the Spingboks player also had to see red after the previous decision. Du Plessis was a man possessed while on the field, - one of the best performers - but the one-man deficit cost the Springboks dearly and the watching audience a contest. A huge shame.
All Blacks are still the world's best side
The debate running up to this game was about the All Blacks and whether they would be knocked off their perch at the top of the International Rugby Board rankings. Fear not those of All Blacks persuasion; there was never any danger of this happening after the Boks were reduced to 14 men. Beating South Africa is an impressive feat regardless of the circumstances, but to do so and get the four-try bonus point is an achievement worth recognising. It will take a brilliant performance from any team to beat New Zealand as the All Blacks' machine shows no signs of relenting. They will probably win the Rugby Championship and head into the end-of-year Tests with that No.1 ranking next to their name.
Boks needed to gamble
Brodie Retallick put in a memorable showing © Getty Images
When you are down to 14 men, you have two options: hit the opposition on the counter-attack; or throw caution to the wind and and use attack as the best form of defence. Pat Lambie's entrance in the 74th minute was far too late. This would have been the perfect game for the diminutive fly-half-cum-fullback to sway in the Boks' favour. Morne Steyn is a quality No.10, but they needed someone to take the ball in hand and beat the gainline - not to kick tactically. In all likelihood, the All Blacks would have won regardless of when Heyneke Meyer used his bench; but an earlier entrance from Lambie could have seen the men in green and gold get the losing bonus point.
Sam Cane is the future and the now
New Zealand worries about the absence of Richie McCaw were nullified by a commanding performance from the Sam Cane. At the end of the game, he resembled that epic photograph of England football player Terry Butcher with his bandaged head caked in blood and his shirt and, you expect, areas of Eden Park also showing evidence of his efforts. Blood apart, Cane sweated for his team's cause putting in eight tackles and missing none. He looked at home in the back-row in the black shirt, and the All Blacks' future at openside when McCaw eventually decides to hang up those battered boots looks safe in Cane's hands. And if he gets injured, they have Matt Todd waiting in the wings; not a bad situation to be in at all.
South Africa aren't yet finished article
The Boks remain a developing team. Unlike the All Blacks, you can't yet pen a Springboks' XV and be completely certain you have got it right. Yes, the Kiwis alternate their options in the centres; but when you have an embarrassment of riches at your disposal, it's a welcome headache to have. For the Boks, you feel they are still fine-tuning some aspects of their side; whether it be just their first-choice hooker and the best make-up of their back three. They have class throughout, but are not yet at the level of the Kiwis. The return match at Ellis Park cannot come soon enough, though, and the Boks will be seeking revenge after Poite wronged them on Saturday.
The game had plenty of niggle © Getty Images
New Zealand defeated South Africa in a tough contest (video available only in Australia)
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.