Cape Town – The bigger northern hemisphere powers are watching their southern rivals with increased interest in this World Cup year ... and it seems they admired what they saw from the All Blacks and Springboks in Saturday’s Johannesburg thriller.
New Zealand edged the Castle Rugby Championship clash 27-20 after a battle royale, and while lauding their calmness, world-champion quality and character in repelling the Bok onslaught before a full house at Emirates Airline Park, top London broadsheets were also not shy to credit the home side.
RWC 2015, in England and Wales, is now not much more than a month and a half away and if a team from north of the equator is to win it, it would be for only second time in eight attempts – following England’s drought-breaker under Clive Woodward’s coaching tenure in 2003.
The Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies have each won it twice.
Paul Rees of The Guardian said South Africa were especially convincing in the first half: “(Their) policy from the start was to put immediate pressure on the ball carrier, whether mobile or on the deck and the two wing forwards (Heinrich Brussow and Francois Louw) in tandem with hooker Bismarck du Plessis were relentless in their pursuit of turnovers.
“They were so successful that the All Blacks rarely found themselves in attacking positions, tactically adrift.”
He singled out the Boks’ “zest”, adding that they were led by “a rampant Schalk Burger at No 8 who had set his time machine back 10 years.
“There were times when the All Blacks looked vulnerable and they struggled to deal with hard-running centre Damian de Allende who, even in two defeats this month, has formed a midfield partnership with Jesse Kriel that looks enduring.”
However, the writer suggested of the All Blacks: “No team in the professional era has had such a capacity to win from unpromising positions.”
Meanwhile in the Daily Telegraph Daniel Schofield described the match as “another stone cold classic at Ellis Park between the world No 1 and No 2 sides”.
He said no team but New Zealand could have “weathered the pressure they withstood from South Africa in a 15-minute period midway through the second half in which they lost Sam Whitelock to the sin-bin: they held firm.
“By no means was this a poor South Africa performance – they played with a ferocious intensity and their centre partnership (De Allende and Kriel), who have just five caps between them, outshone Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, rugby’s most capped midfield pairing.
“Lood de Jager, the rookie lock, was also outstanding.
“It was an enthralling contest, played at a speed and physicality far beyond what we saw in the Six Nations, and was almost of the same calibre as the 2013 and 2014 humdingers in Johannesburg.”
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