We’ve seen this movie before. All Blacks fans and neutrals categorise it as science fiction. Disciples of the opposition might describe it as horror, though.
The All Blacks shift up a gear after the break to turn a close race into a comfortable victory. Then the black car retracts its wheels on the hour-mark to reveal the truth: it’s not a car, but a spaceship.
Buttons are pressed and switches are flipped. Suddenly the craft is approaching warp speed. Twenty minutes on, and the All Blacks have turned a comfortable victory into a one-sided rout.
There’s plenty of evidence to support the claim that the All Blacks have evolved – and enhanced that spaceship –since winning the 2015 World Cup. They’ve improved in all aspects of the game over the past three years, and have targeted the second half as the best time to exercise their superior skills and fitness.
The battling Boks have averaged 2.5 tries and 23 points per game since the start of the 2016 season. The All Blacks, however, have averaged three tries and nearly as many points (20) in the second half of Tests played during this period.
We saw how the All Blacks toyed with France in June. More recently, we saw how they traded punches with Australia and Argentina in the early stages, and then delivered the knockout blow.
After trailing France 8-11 in the opening skirmish of the three-Test series, the All Blacks put 44 points and seven tries past Les Bleus in the second stanza. They scored 28 points and four tries in the second half of the third Test.
New Zealand overturned a 5-6 half-time deficit to win 38-13 in Sydney. They led 14-7 at the break in Auckland, then shifted gear to hand the Wallabies a 40-12 hiding.
Argentina were commended for their first-half efforts against a second-string All Blacks side in Nelson. The match ended with the Pumas having leaked 46 points and six tries, though, the bulk of those in the latter stages.
It begs the question, were France, Australia, and Argentina given too much credit for their performances, or were the All Blacks not given enough?
The All Blacks will host the Boks in Wellington this Saturday. They will welcome back a host of first-choice players for the clash.
One cannot see the Boks pushing the All Blacks close in this fixture. Indeed, the big question is whether this Bok side has what it takes to avoid complete annihilation.
The Boks lost 41-13 in Christchurch two years ago, and by a record 57-point margin in Albany in 2017. There must be some trepidation ahead of a game that could witness a similarly inflated scoreline.
It’s not enough to be within seven points of the All Blacks at the break. The Boks will have to fight tooth and nail this Saturday to prevent the All Blacks from running away with it in the second half.
South Africa dominated New Zealand in 2009, winning all three Tests against the old foe that season and claimed the Tri-Nations title.
Since then, the All Blacks have dominated this fixture at home, in South Africa and even on neutral ground, outscoring the Boks in the second half 15 times in 17 matches during this period.
Last season’s meeting in Cape Town witnessed an extraordinary feat in that the Boks scored more points (21) and tries (three) than the All Blacks in the second stanza. It was the only game, however, in which the Boks scored more second half-tries than the All Blacks (between 2010 and 2017).
Since 2016, the All Blacks have averaged 26 points and 4.25 tries against the Boks in the second half. That average is significantly higher than the All Blacks’ average against all teams since the 2015 World Cup (20.8 points and three tries).
It’s hard to know what to expect from the Boks this Saturday. They’ve been consistently poor in terms of results over the past three seasons, and are currently ranked seventh in the world.
They’ve blown hot and cold in 2018. The Boks scored 17 second-half points in the one-off match against Wales after trailing 14-3 at the break. They managed to fight back after some poor starts in the first two Tests against England, and outscored Argentina in the second half of matches played in Durban and Mendoza.
In their most recent fixture against Australia, however, the Boks scored zero points in the second stanza. It’s that stat which should worry Rassie Erasmus most ahead of a clash against the sport’s most ruthless finishers.
Jon Cardinelli is sarugbymag.co.za’s Chief Rugby Writer