Dan Carter was the man everyone thought could prove the difference between the All Blacks and the Springboks, and so it proved as the hosts scored a comprehensive 19-8 win in the Tri-Nations opener in Wellington on Saturday.
Report courtesy www.superrugby.co.za.
Whereas the Boks were tactically naive, Carter was the master tactician for the All Blacks as they drummed out a win that was a lot more emphatic than the final score will suggest.
Indeed, there were several times in the second half when the Kiwis came close to scoring tries, and did go over for what looked a perfectly good try that was wrongly denied them by referee Stuart Dickinson. That would have made it 26-8 to the All Blacks.
Instead of playing rugby in their own half, as the South Africans did far too often for comfort, the All Blacks relied on Carter’s boot to keep it in South African territory. Although he missed an early attempt at goal, he was on target with all his others, including an excellent angled conversion from the touchline of the Jerome Keino try that he was instrumental in creating five minutes into the second half.
The Boks had fought back well through an excellent try to Bryan Habana shortly before half time. It was a good pass from Adi Jacobs that created the gap through which Jean de Villiers surged, and then the centre put in a pinpoint pass to Habana, who slid over in the corner. Butch James was unable to convert, and this could have been a telling moment in the game, as a half-time lead would have been a significant half-time lift to the Boks.
They did a lot of scrambling in the first half and from the fourth minute, when Carter kicked his first of four penalties, they were down on the scoreboard, as well as in the battle for territory and possession, but in the middle stages they did appear to be finding their feet. After the break though they gave the impression they thought they had to play catch-up rugby, and whereas the All Blacks were measured and controlled, the South Africans weren’t.
It needs to be pointed out that the Boks also lost skipper John Smit immediately after they scored their try to what looked like a leg injury. Smit has been very much the glue that has held the Boks together during the coaching transition from Jake White to Peter de Villiers, so maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that they lacked direction and seldom threatened after he left the field.
The All Blacks, as they did in a Tri-Nations match in Durban last year, also lifted their intensity after the break, and they spent much of the second half on the attack, with the Boks doing well to limit the All Blacks to just ten points in the last 40 minutes.
The All Black tactics were clear from the outset. The first South African throw-in at a lineout was as late as the 32nd minute. The Kiwis had seven throws before that, all of which they won. That was an illustration of the All Black determination not to kick the ball out. When the Boks did finally get to throw into the lineout, they were sloppy, and Bismarck du Plessis missed his first two throws after coming on as Smit’s replacement.
The Bok scrumming was always going to be a big area of scrutiny in this match, and the unit was hammered in the first half, particularly in the first three scrums. They appeared to be settling later in the game, but you have to ask what went through coach De Villiers’s mind when he opted to leave the best tighthead, BJ Botha, behind in South Africa.
Some of the substitutions that were made during the game were also questionable. It was not Butch James’s greatest test match, but Frans Steyn showed against Italy two weeks ago that he is not a flyhalf, and he was shown up again. He did come close with a long-range drop attempt, but he could have done that from the midfield, which is where he should have started.
With Steyn standing alongside James the South Africans would have significantly improved their field kicking options, something that could also have been achieved by selecting Conrad Jantjes, who had a good game at fullback, on the wing to accommodate Percy Montgomery at the back.
The game was played in almost constant rain, so why the Boks did not do this defies logic. It certainly contributed to this defeat at the hands of an All Black team that is mediocre rather than spectacular and at the start of a rebuilding phase.
The Boks, by contrast, could have opted to start with 12 members of the team that played in last year’s World Cup final, but went instead with just eight.
Of coach De Villiers’s more debatable selections, Jacobs performed well on attack and held his own on defence with the exception of one occasion when Ma’a Nonu ran through both himself and his centre partner De Villiers. The question about Jacobs should really be phrased as follows — does he have a presence?
Joe van Niekerk made an outstanding return to international rugby, but then he was inexplicably replaced in the second half by Luke Watson, who made no positive contribution to the Springbok cause from No 8.
The best Springbok player on the day was De Villiers, who defended and attacked well, while Jantjes can join Van Niekerk in feeling happy with his performance. Ricky Januarie was good in harassing opposite number Andy Ellis off the scrums and at the lineouts.
For the All Blacks, Carter was the stand-out, but the reworked back row, with Jerome Keino in good form, exceeded expectations, while Conrad Smith was their most dangerous outside back on a night when they had many more attacking opportunities than their opponents.
New Zealand 19 – Try: Jerome Keino; Conversion: Dan Carter; Penalties: Daniel Carter 4.
South Africa 8 – Try: Bryan Habana; Penalty: Butch James.Tweet