There has been plenty of backslapping for the Springboks, following a memorable 25-24 defeat to the All Blacks on Saturday, and just three weeks on from their infamous 57-0 drubbing in Albany.
The monstrous Malcolm Marx led the charge at Newlands with captain Eben Etzebeth and fellow tight-five brutes Steven Kitshoff and Pieter-Steph du Toit adding to the stampede. The All Blacks would’ve awoken on Sunday with the bruises to prove it.
“They came forward, attacked the gain-line and put us under pressure with their big bodies for longer periods than in Albany,” All Blacks captain Kieran Read said after the match.
It was a much-improved performance from the Boks, and will give them confidence for the end-of-year tour to Europe.
But for all the positive feedback from the Kiwis, before and after the final whistle, how seriously did the All Blacks take Saturday’s game?
With the Rugby Championship title in the bag, the visitors treated their build-up to the dead-rubber Test like a holiday, with visits to Camps Bay, posing for photos with locals and signing autographs at shopping malls in the Mother City.
Nehe Milner-Skudder’s audacious, behind-the-back pass in the opening stanza smacked of arrogance from the ‘humble’ world champions, who were happy to put on a show for their fans – until the scoreline looked like it might leave them with egg on their faces and Damian McKenzie saved blushes with a brilliant solo score.
“We saw that if everyone is in the right mindset, the Boks are a very good team, and what it showed us is we’ve got to be in the right mindset when we play them or we’re vulnerable,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
Both teams, unnecessarily, played on for more than 10 minutes after the halftime hooter. Milner-Skudder dislocated his shoulder during that period and Read confirmed that “egos got in the way of a smart decision” to kick the ball out.
It’s unlikely the All Blacks would’ve kept the clock ticking if more than pride had been on the line.
Bok coach Allister Coetzee has, true to form, hauled out every platitude in his bag of excuses after Saturday’s one-point loss: “it’s a process, pleasing comeback, we believe in ourselves and our plan, we’re on the right track, losses won’t define us, we’re in it to win it.”
But none of that saw the Boks take advantage of an All Blacks side that was ripe for the picking at Newlands.