All Blacks in ominous form
July 17, 2010
Tempers boil over between All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw and Springboks lock Danie Rossouw © Getty Images
New Zealand laid down another impressive marker in sweeping South Africa aside in Wellington that should have the rest of the rugby world worried.
Graham Henry's side were some way from their clinical best and fly-half Dan Carter also suffered a rare off-day but they still managed to produce an eye-catching performance featuring an enviable mix of pace and power that once again proved too much for a Springboks side that had little answer on all fronts.
This was a much-improved display from South Africa who turned up looking to redress the balance having been outclassed at Eden Park but as in Auckland they were undone by an all-too-familiar ailment - indiscipline. For Bakkies Botha read Danie Rossouw but the latter may have been a little unlucky to have seen yellow with the game barely begun. The decision by referee Alain Rolland to give the lock his marching orders proved pivotal in the contest with the All Blacks running in two tries in his absence.
Immediate replays suggested Rolland may have been a little harsh but subsequent still images suggest the Irish official, who was perfectly placed to see any indiscretion, may have been right to take such action. It was evident up to that point that there was an edge to proceedings and right or wrong, Rossouw's dismissal certainly drew the sting out of the contest that still retained a bone-shuddering physical edge.
Rolland's judgement, and that off assistant Alan Lewis, was called into question later in the half with All Blacks winger Rene Ranger penalised for a dangerous tackle on South Africa's Zane Kirchner. Again the benefit of replay showed that Ranger may have been hard done by and the All Blacks will have had good reason to feel aggrieved as Rossouw crashed over moments later. There is no doubt both incidents had an undue influence on the course of the game but there can be little argument about the eventual result.
At the heart of the All Blacks' latest master class was No.8 Kieran Read who stood over the game like a colossus. He was particularly impressive in the opening quarter where the All Blacks were aware they would have to weather a fired-up Springboks side determined to right the wrongs of Eden Park. He was hungry for the ball and industrious with it and dominated his opposite number Pierre Spies. His work in tandem with his skipper Richie McCaw will have also brought a smile to Henry's face.
Rivalling Read for man of the match was scrum-half Piri Weepu who made the most of a rare start with a superb performance. By the time he made way for Jimmy Cowan in the second half he had tormented Springboks No.9 Ricky Januarie with a busy display punctuated with bursts of pace and crunching tackles. But both were almost eclipsed by a dazzling cameo from replacement Israel Dagg who lit up the game with a moment of magic. The highly-rated 22-year-old, making just his third appearance in All Blacks colours, danced his way through the Springboks defence for a great try that underlined his class and the apparent abundance of talent at Henry's disposal.
The picture is not so rosy for South Africa and coach Peter de Villiers. His side were considered the benchmark for the international game until the 2010 All Blacks loomed into view and suddenly look more than a little vulnerable. There was some joy at the lineout and the scrum to reflect upon but those positives were far outweighed by their continued failure to match the All Blacks work rate. In addition, too many of their big names appear off their game. Perhaps an epic 12 or so months, including a series victory over the British & Irish Lions and a Tri-Nations success, is beginning to take its toll but thanks to the South African Rugby Union's seeming desire to maximise revenue with a gruelling schedule for their team there appears little time or inclination to offer a sustained period of rest. Captain John Smit is one of those facing increasing criticism for his lack of form and will no doubt have his place questioned in the wake of this latest reverse. Scrum-half Januarie is another set to come under the microscope having been schooled by Weepu while winger Bryan Habana appears destined to remain one try short of Joost van der Westhuizen's national record if he continues to go absent and his side fail to rediscover a cutting edge.
There is little time for recuperation for the Springboks with a relatively fresh Australia awaiting them in Brisbane next weekend - no doubt relishing the opportunity to heap woe on their rivals in what will be their tournament bow. The Springboks will be crying out for a flight back to South Africa but must rally themselves once more otherwise they are in distinct danger of returning home empty-handed having failed to secure even a losing bonus point in their clashes with New Zealand. It will be interesting to see how this side fares with 15-men for the duration of a whole game - but that depends on them learning from their mistakes which so far in this year's Tri-Nations they have appeared unable to do.
The All Blacks in contrast can now bask in the praise that is coming their way. They have a two-week break to finesse their game ahead of the first Bledisloe Cup clash of the year in Melbourne which will hold no fear for this side - no matter what the Wallabies muster against the Springboks. Henry's charges appear so well organised in defence and confident with ball in hand while the Wellington rain did little to dampen their sense of adventure. And with this latest victory they showed that they can deliver back-to-back big match performances - a fact that bodes well for them and not so well for the rest of the world.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
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