Another Ellis Park Classic

Jeremy Thrush New Zealand All Blacks South Africa Springboks Rugby ChampionshipWhat is it about these two sides in Johannesburg that brings out the best that rugby has to offer? Why don’t the Springboks play like that every game? It was a superb match, the best of the year, thrilling from the opening seconds until the final whistle, and given that it brought a halt to New Zealand’s 22 match unbeaten streak it might have even topped last year’s classic. The only blight was a terrible injury to poor Tawera Kerr-Barlow suffered in the dying minutes.

Beauden Barrett opened the scoring but it was Francois Hougaard who scored the first try, and what a beauty. It started from the shadow of the Springboks’ own posts, featured a bit of magic, a little luck, and a lot of class and will surely be a front runner for try of the year. South Africa has looked devastating attacking the wide spaces, so it’s desperately frustrating when they choose to play conservatively.

Thankfully it appears Handré Pollard has been given more freedom to move the ball. Pollard had a breakthrough match, scoring two tries and controlling the game nicely. He has added a new dimension to the Springbok attack and long may that continue.

New Zealand struggled to break the line early on and it took a chip kick from Julian Savea to get them on the front foot. Malakai Fekitoa was the recipient of the quick ball, a simple step putting him in under the posts. Neither side were content to coast into the break and both had chances, but it was the Boks who scored with Pollard beating Aaron Smith on the inside and driving through the attention of Richie McCaw to touch down.

With only a quarter of an hour left on the clock and South Africa up by 11 it looked unlikely for New Zealand. This time is was the Springboks who committed the error on first phase defense, as the normally rock-solid midfield let Conrad Smith get on the outside to put his namesake Ben in for the try. With momentum firmly in their favour the All Blacks snatched a second in quick succession through Dane Coles via some picture perfect quick hands.

Pat Lambie very nearly put over a drop goal with four minutes to play, the attempt drifting just left of the posts, but he was given another shot moments later as Liam Messam was found guilty of a shoulder charge on Schalk Burger. On another day the incident might have been missed completely. As it was it gave Lambie a crack from 55 metres, and in the thin air of Ellis Park it flew straight through the sticks with room to spare.

Fittingly it was Duane Vermeulen who won the turnover at the death with New Zealand pressing their case for a shot of their own. The Springbok no8 put in a tremendous performance in the wake of a rib injury that had put his participation in the match in doubt up until that morning. In fact it was impossible to claim that anyone had a poor match. Just another day up on the Highveld, where once a year our rugby dreams become reality.

SOUTH AFRICA 27 vs 25 NEW ZEALAND
Saturday, October 4, 15:05 GMT, Johannesburg

SCORING
08 mins – B. Barrett pen 0-3
11 mins – F. Hougaard try 5-3
12 mins – H. Pollard con 7-3
23 mins – B. Barrett pen 7-6
27 mins – H. Pollard try 12-6
28 mins – H. Pollard con 14-6
33 mins – M. Fekitoa try 14-11
34 mins – B. Barrett con 14-13
39 mins – H. Pollard try 19-13
40 mins – H. Pollard con 21-13
47 mins – H. Pollard pen 24-13
65 mins – B. Smith try 24-18
66 mins – B. Barrett con 24-20
70 mins – D. Coles try 24-25
78 mins – P. Lambie pen 27-25

SOUTH AFRICA
W. le Roux; C. Hendricks (J.P. Pieterson 57), J. Serfontein, J. de Villiers (capt.), B. Habana; H. Pollard (P. Lambie 63), F. Hougaard (C. Reinach 67); T. Mtawarira (T. Nyakane 72), B. du Plessis (A. Strauss 52), J. du Plessis (M. van der Merwe 63); E. Etzebeth (B. Botha 63), V. Matfield; M. Coetzee, T. Mohoje (S. Burger 50), D. Vermeulen.

NEW ZEALAND
I. Dagg; B. Smith, C. Smith (R. Crotty 72), M. Fekitoa, J. Savea; B. Barrett, A. Smith (T. Kerr-Barlow 67 {C. Slade 74}); J. Moody (B. Franks HT), K. Mealamu (D. Coles 49), O. Franks (C. Faumuina 57); J. Thrush (L. Messam 49), S. Whitelock; J. Kaino (S. Luatua 61), R. McCaw (capt.), K. Read.

Referee: W. Barnes (RFU)
Assistants: P. Gaüzère (FFR) & J.P. Doyle (RFU)
TMO: G. Hughes (RFU)

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