Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Boks reap rewards of keeping holy trinity

Israel Dagg was one of the few that put on an impressive display. Photo / Getty Images
Israel Dagg was one of the few that put on an impressive display. Photo / Getty Images

South Africa 18 All Blacks 5

The Springboks' template has never been a mystery. Kick, chase, tackle has been their faithful rugby trinity and that formula brought them reward and the All Blacks an exasperating defeat.

Tries were incidental for the Boks in Port Elizabeth as they hounded the visitors, Morne Steyn banged over penalty and dropped goals and their cover-defence held firm enough.

Now they have some stronger strands of hope after being doused in their three previous tests while the All Blacks should fret about the impact of a consecutive defeat when they tangle with the Wallabies this Saturday in Brisbane.

The All Blacks had some ill-fortune when the television match official "helped" referee George Clancy rub out a try to Jimmy Cowan. The advice was illegal under the regulations but the verdict was correct.

It squared up the try to Richard Kahui which involved at least one forward pass but like the usual scrum and ruck mysteries, international referees' boss Paddy O'Brien points out there are no changes to law interpretations until the World Cup has finished.

The Boks' style has rarely altered in the two decades since they were readmitted to the global rugby order. Pound the opposition, hunt for territory and kick your goals.

Not that there was much perplexity about the All Black strategy. They planned to stretch the Boks and play up tempo so the Boks would struggle, and for variety, ask them to defuse midfield bombs.

Not much wrong with the plan, just that the players could not execute it. They did not engage the Boks enough up front for the first half an hour, they did not drag them in close for long enough, to open up the space out wide where the All Blacks had the advantage.

By then the Boks had gathered some belief, Jaque Fourie had saved several tries and Steyn had slapped the ball between the posts. Suddenly the "come and get us" message to the All Blacks had some authority.

And a nifty margin as the Boks skipped out to a 15-5 lead at the break.

Five-eighths Colin Slade started well but from there his decisions and play were mixed. He wavered in his choices and that gave the defences time to shut him or his outsides down. His tactical kicking and kicks for goal became variable.

The All Blacks had sacks of time to reverse their standards. Assistant coach Wayne Smith revealed the halftime messages were about discipline and ball retention. No one spoke loud enough and when the substitutions started, there was no impact.

The lowpoint came when the All Black scrum yielded a tighthead and Steyn booted the only points in the second half. For the second successive test the Boks failed to score a try but this time they won.

It will be a dent for the All Blacks. Coach Graham Henry had been bullish about claiming a result at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium with his best of the rest squad. His subsequent overnight consultations about World Cup selections would have made intriguing audio.

There was a lack of forward unity, some scrum hesitation and breakdown struggles. The flow in the backs was stilted where Israel Dagg and Kahui delivered the most impressive displays. Isaia Toeava was dangerous and careless while Hosea Gear was steady under the high ball, defended strenuously but did not get involved on attack.

Sonny Bill Williams was direct, brought a nifty offload or two into play but that was about the extent of his influence. Too many individuals had variable matches which was reflected in the overall All Black impression.

It was only one blip but another in Brisbane would give the World Cup favourites a real tremor in the shadow of the tournament start.

- NZ Herald

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