Up to the 70th minute I had that dreaded “here we go again” feeling. So often in the past, and particularly against Australia, we managed to everything required to win, but did not.
The Wallabies had a number of close calls in the scoring department, but somehow lady luck for once turned her back on the men in gold.
Nigel Owns deserves a lot of credit for allowing the game to flow the way he did. The highlight for many of us was when he directly addressed Michael Hooper for transgressions at the breakdown. Hooper was not nearly as menacing after this, which allowed us to win quick ball and create three superb tries to seal a rather flattering final score.
Hougaardt deserved his man of the match award for a sterling overall performance, including a try-saving tackle out wide. Playing to his strengths, rather than a game plan which is not aligned with this, he kept the opposition unsure, and fed his backline well.
Much was said about Pat Lambie’s influence, and rightly so. I was concerned about his lack of game time, but he proved that class will out. He more than made up for missing a sitter of a penalty with a drop goal which injected new energy into his team mates, and then scoring a classic flyhalf try.
My only real concern lies in the front row. The Beast and Jannie du Plessis are not the force they used to be, and Du Plessis’s poor tackling can no longer be disregarded. I thought that Marcel van der Merwe did enough in every department to deserve a start against the All Blacks. Bismarck du Plessis also appears to have shaken off his weariness, and showed signs of the form which made him the number one number 2 in the world.
Injuries to Duane Vermeulen and Bryan Habana are a concern, with the All Blacks already in the country. Vermeulen, in particular, is the rock around which virtually everything is built. With Willem Alberts and Francois Louw also injured, our first choice loose forwards are all on the bench. The good news is that their replacements came out trumps on Saturday, and the challenge of measuring themselves against the All Blacks will be a huge motivation.
The Australian media makes an interesting point when it says that the difference between the two sides was the superior bench available to Heyneke Meyer.
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie had experience to call on, too, but the impact was not there. Only Rob Horne on the wing added any oomph to the visitors’ performance. Former skipper James Horwill played his part in the second half, but Benn Robinson, Scott Higginbotham, James Hanson and Ben Alexander were invisible. Kurtley Beale could have only hoped for such heights. Beale’s cameo in Perth three weeks ago was as entertaining as Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction but Cape Town’s effort was on par with Mike Tyson in The Hangover.
A lot of attention will need to be paid to the Springboks passing in the week ahead. The masters in the art of pouncing on mistakes would have killed us on Saturday if they were the opponents.
All Blacks take the series
Few would argue that they did not deserve their third title in a row. This knowledge may lead to complacency and, coupled with jet lag, may open the door for the Springboks to win on Saturday.
Moonstone/Getwine Rugby Championship Pool
Our weekly winner is Lizel Bekker from Stellenbosch who shot up 28 places on the leaderboard to fourth position. Mel secured her top spot with a total of 12.25 points on the log, followed closely by Andrew Howitt and Paul Coetzee, both on 11.50.
With only one week left in the competition, the winner is not a foregone conclusion at all. Will Australia recover from the 275 tackles they made on Saturday, and will All Black pride deny the Boks a victory?