Springboks go top of Tri-Nations

27 July 2009

The Springboks got their Tri-Nations challenge off to a strong start on Saturday by beating the All Blacks 28-19 in Bloemfontein. The win lifted South Africa above New Zealand into first place in the International Rugby Board World Rankings.

The nine-point victory also took the Boks to the top of the Tri-Nations’ standings, and kept the Kiwis from adding to the four points they picked up after beating Australia 22-16 in the opening match of this season’s competition.

It could have been a much bigger win for South Africa had Ruan Pienaar not struggled with his kicking. However, that should be a cause for optimism for coach Peter de Villiers; test match kickers seldom go one out of five in kicks at goal as Pienaar did in one half, including two kicks hitting the uprights. At halftime he was replaced by Morne Steyn after picking up an injury.

‘Unbelievable’

After the game, captain John Smit paid tribute to his pack for setting the New Zealanders on the back foot. He described the intensity at the rucks and mauls as “unbelievable”. One of the prime movers – pun intended – in that aspect of play was Bakkies Botha, who missed the Springboks’ last test against the British and Irish Lions after being handed a controversial suspension for cleaning out at a ruck.

Flank Heinrich Brussouw again proved to be superb at turning over and slowing down ball and was named man of the match. With Schalk Burger sidelined by a long-term suspension, Brussouw is putting together a strong case to be the first choice on the side of the scrum, along with Juan Smith.

Pierre Spies, too, was strong off the back of the scrum and Bismarck du Plessis played like a bullocking fourth loose forward.

Lineouts

Victor Matfield led a Springbok domination of the lineouts, making it a miserable day for the All Black hookers Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu. New Zealand had struggled in the lineouts against Australia in their first Tri-Nations test and up against the best lineout forward in the world they had a tough day again.

The All Blacks were first onto the scoreboard in the third minute of the contest when Stephen Donald landed a penalty after Jean de Villiers had been penalised for obstruction. It was to be the only time that the men from the land of the long white cloud would lead in the whole match.

In the sixth minute, the Springboks levelled the scores when Francois Steyn knocked over a kick from 55 metres after the All Blacks conceded a penalty at a lineout.

Three minutes later, Pienaar hit the upright with a kick at goal after Rodney So’oialo was pinged for a high tackle.

Uprights again

Just two minutes after that, he hit the upright again with a relatively easy kick after Brendon Leonard was blown up for going offsides.

Then it was Stephen Donald’s turn to take a shot at goal. From long distance, he was on target, but short of distance.

The Springboks took the lead for the first time in the match in the 16th minute when Pienaar finally found the target. His opportunity came after the All Blacks were penalised and warned by the referee after a number of indiscretions in quick succession at rucks.

Midway through the half, the Springboks strung together a number of passes and penetrated deep into New Zealand territory. With the tryline in sight, the Boks lost possession, but an excellent tackle on Mils Muliaina by Bismarck du Plessis forced the fullback back over his tryline where he dotted the ball down. That gave the Boks a five-metre scrum.

Spies attacked off the back, which led to a number of drives by the forwards at the New Zealand line. Then, the ball was sent to the left.

Springbok try

Jean de Villiers headed for a half-gap, but was excellently tackled around the ankles by Conrad Smith. Pienaar, meanwhile, had looped around to the back of De Villiers, who passed the ball back to Pienaar while on his back. The number 10 raced around on the outside to score in the left-hand corner.

His kick from the touchline was wide to the right of the posts, but the Springboks had opened up a decent 11-3 advantage.

Francois Steyn extended the lead by a further three points just after the half-hour mark when, with Pienaar being treated for an injury, he knocked over a simple kick from almost in front of the posts.

Three minutes from the break, Pienaar missed with another penalty attempt.

Halftime

At half-time it was 14-3 to the Springboks with the pack well on top of their All Black counterparts. Neither South African wing, Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen, had been handed any decent attacking opportunities, but with the forwards playing the way they were it wasn’t anything for captain John Smit and coach Peter de Villiers to be concerned about.

When the second half began, Morne Steyn was on for Ruan Pienaar. Afterwards, coach De Villiers insisted it was for an injury and not because of Pienaar’s poor goal kicking.

Only two minutes after the restart, Steyn got himself onto the scoresheet when he slotted a penalty kick from 45 metres out after Conrad Smith had been penalised for being ahead of the kicker.

All Black try

Six minutes later, it was Smith who was on the scoresheet. He skipped out of an attempted tackle by Steyn to dot down and when Donald kicked the conversion suddenly the game was a lot closer on the scoreboard than it had been on the field at 17-10 in favour of the home side.

When Bakkies Botha was penalised two minutes later for an infringement at a ruck, and Donald kicked the penalty, there were only four points between the teams.

It appeared as if New Zealand had the momentum, but the Springboks were next on the scoreboard when Steyn landed another penalty. He had earned it himself by spotting a gap and making a break. The New Zealanders had then been penalised at the subsequent ruck.

Up for grabs

Richie McCaw’s side reduced the deficit to four points when, after holding onto the ball through numerous phases as they looked for chinks in South Africa’s defensive armour, they earned a penalty and Donald stuck it over. The game remained up for grabs.

With eight minutes to go, the game was decided as the Springboks took a nine-point lead, meaning the All Blacks would have to score twice to win.

The Kiwis were on the attack and had taken the ball into the Bok 22, but Piri Weepu fired a poor pass and Pierre Spies was able to hack the ball up field. He charged after it, but Conrad Smith managed to recover it for New Zealand. Weepu, though, messed up again when he passed inside to Juan Smith. The flanker quickly fed Jaque Fourie and the big centre raced away to score from 40 metres out.

Steyn’s missed conversion attempt from out wide was his first missed kick in a Springbok jersey in three tests.

Six-point gap

New Zealand pulled back three points a minute later when substitute Wynand Olivier was blown up for not releasing the man he had tackled. Donald duly reduced the gap between the teams to six points.

With four minutes left on the clock, Steyn made the difference nine points once more with a superb penalty kick from 50 metres out after Jason Eaton had been penalised for going offsides.

When the final whistle sounded, the scoreboard read South Africa 28, New Zealand 19. It was the first time that the Springboks had beaten the All Blacks in Bloemfontein. Previously, in 1961, the teams had drawn 11-11, and in 1976 the All Blacks had won 15-9.

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