Opinion | Some stand out efforts from the All Blacks

Getty Images     08 Oct 2017     Getty Images

To lose to the All Blacks by a point is never a disgrace. To do it after being hammered 57-0 in the previous Test match is a staggering turnaround that makes the comments Springbok coach Allister Coetzee said before the Test in Newlands even more baffling.
“We're playing a very good All Blacks side,” Coetzee said, “and we'd be living in a fool's paradise if we thought we could topple them.”

South Africa hadn’t beaten the All Blacks for three years and that 27-25 win in Johannesburg in 2014 stands alone in their last 11 encounters. In the last three Tests they’d lost was at an average of 52-9.

So to climb out of the hole they fell into in Albany last month and lose 25-24 was a victory for South African spirits, even if a real win continues to elude them.

It is a triumph of sorts for world rugby too. South Africa have slipped to fourth in the world rankings but remain a key player in the small group of international rugby’s top teams.

Just as it is with the Wallabies, world rugby cannot afford to have the Springboks fall out of the elite, to slide perhaps irreversibly into the pack.

That’s not something the All Blacks can worry about - their job is to continue to be the benchmark against which other teams judge themselves. Coach Steve Hansen will be pleased to see a New Zealand - South Africa match is a true test again.

He needs his team to be regularly challenged. He needs his players to be constantly tested. He cannot afford to have them canter away from the chasing pack between World Cups.

That has happened in the past and, as any All Blacks fan knows, it hasn’t led to World Cup success.

From an All Blacks perspective the Newlands Test reinforced how good flanker Liam Squire is with his huge work rate and strong defence. It was another reminder too that Damian McKenzie is a brilliant attacking fullback who is brave on defence and under the high ball. And it showed again that while Sam Whitelock might be shaded at times by Brodie Retallick, he certainly doesn’t live in his shadow. Whitelock was immense in Cape Town with key turnovers (one of which was incorrectly penalised) and a massive work rate, especially on defence.

Nepo Laulala continues to impress and it was good to see Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty combine in a tidy performance in the midfield.

The head knock to Beauden Barrett is a worry, while another shoulder injury Nehe Milner-Skudder is cruel. If any player deserves a run of good luck it’s him. His time will come again.

That shouldn’t be the case though for referee Jerome Garces. He was again confusing, especially with his efforts to officiate the scrum, and he was unduly harsh in sending replacement Springbok midfielder Damian de Allende off. Probably a yellow card. But a red? Nope.

Then again, this is the same referee who, as an assistant referee, interjected in the final few minutes of the third British and Irish Lions Test match, convincing referee Romain Poite to reverse his decision to award the All Blacks what could have been a match winning penalty.

Referees have a tough job. But with the help of television replays they get the chance to get the big calls right. Garces needs to get more of the truly important calls right.