Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Boks shortened up by big display

All Black Dan Carter leaves the field. Photo / Getty Images
All Black Dan Carter leaves the field. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand 29
South Africa 15

It must be terrifying for rugby's chasing pack that the All Blacks can dust off the Springboks these days without Richie McCaw, Dan Carter or Israel Dagg.

And it wasn't so much dust them off, either. This was emphatic. A better team playing better rugby getting the result they deserved.

The Boks will agitate for days, weeks, maybe even months to come that they were hampered by an unjust red card.

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There's certainly merit in debating whether it was just or not, but they will be wasting their time, quite spectacularly missing the point, if they think that was the difference. They weren't going to win with 15 men - for the simple reason that no side is ever going to be able to come to Eden Park and win by only running into contact not space.

It was always a little hard to be carried away by the Boks' optimism about their chances.

Their confidence had been fuelled by hammering Australia, but seriously, that really doesn't count for much.

There was never any prospect of the All Blacks capitulating at the coalface. That's not how it works and the All Blacks gave one of the great defensive performances.

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Their structure held and towards the end of the game, they were smashing the Boks for fun. The ease with which the All Blacks absorbed the Boks cast them in the role of George Foreman in the Jungle: they slugged away at the All Blacks, every blow followed with a whispered inquiry if that was all they had.

All of which made it feel like there is a never ending well of self-belief, courage and composure embedded in this All Black camp - epitomised by outstanding captain Kieran Read.

He gave the ultimate 'follow me' performance. He was everywhere, he was low in the carry, driven, hard, resolute and calm - and almost scored a hat-trick.

If the Boks thought they had seen a crack with the absence of McCaw, they didn't so much as get the crow bar out the tool bag.

Not far behind the skipper were Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick - a lock pairing with edge and authority. The latter discovered a fearsome running game.

Beauden Barrett is on the hero list. Thrust into battle after 20 minutes, he made a big statement about his big future.

The focus shouldn't be on individuals, though, as this was a night where the All Blacks inspired with their collective effort.

Not only was their defence superb, they went well at scrum and lineout, held the Boks to just one rolling maul and didn't give much away at the breakdown. When it came to the actual playing of the game, the bit the Boks always forget is just as important, the All Blacks were light years ahead. They created space and exploited space. The Boks wanted to keep running into contact and more often than not, they would run once too often, spilling the ball.

It was the All Blacks who were missing their big names, scrambling around with the kids from their bench, but it was the All Blacks who were more accurate and aware.

The Boks were of course restricted in what they could do because they were reduced to 14 men.

Was it unfair? Probably. Reckless, brilliant, deliberate - or possibly even a bit of all three, the intent of Bismarck du Plessis's thunderous hit on Daniel Carter will be debated for weeks yet.

He deserves the benefit of the doubt on the first yellow card. Carter was fair game, du Plessis was onside, he timed it beautifully and he clobbered his man. The head coming through was a bit ugly, but he did use his arms and rugby has to be careful that it doesn't react automatically to big hits that really do need to be part of the game.

But his second infringement was bad. A deliberate elbow to Liam Messam had intent. It was Messam who was at the core of the scrap that ensued after the Carter tackle and du Plessis clearly hadn't forgotten.

And those exchanges in the seconds after that first incident were further indication of why this Springbok side fancies itself. They think they are big enough and bad enough to bludgeon and bully their way to the top of rugby's pecking order but their chronic lack of footballing skills will always leave them vulnerable.

The challenge they presented last night was exclusively physical. There's almost 20 years of history that says that's not enough to gain a win at Eden Park.

New Zealand 29 (K. Read 2, B. Retallick tries; D. Carter con; B. Barrett 2 cons, pen) South Africa 15 (B. du Plessis, P. Lambie tries; M. Steyn con, pen).

- Herald on Sunday

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