Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Cohesive AB effort mark of special side

Any other team would have wilted under possession deficit.

Sam Whitelock dives over the line for a try in the All Blacks' 32-16 win over the Springboks. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Whitelock dives over the line for a try in the All Blacks' 32-16 win over the Springboks. Photo / Getty Images

International rugby sides are not expected to win tests without the ball and it is rare when the opposite occurs.

But this All Black side are an uncommonly good team, with the emphasis on their collective clout.

They have individuals like captain Richie McCaw, who claimed his 100th test victory, Daniel Carter, Kieran Read and Ma'a Nonu who would be nominated for any composite All Black greats XV.

But it is their cohesion, self-sacrifice, grit and game sense which mark this group out as special.

Any other team would have withered against the weight of possession the Springboks had yesterday at the magnificent stadium in Soweto.

By their standards the All Blacks were patchy in the opening half.

They were under the cosh and like any side forced into lengthy periods of defence, were susceptible to conceding penalties.

It was their commitment, though, which kept them in the game and a belief that when they got some ball, they would use it.

The Boks had the bulk of possession and all seven penalties and a significant territorial advantage but battled to accrue points in their 32-16 loss.

Their forwards provided a serious platform to strike but their backs were a collection of individuals rather than any smooth unit.

When the All Blacks got a rare chance, they struck with cobra-like speed and venom. They exploited the width of the field and some of the ill-judged defensive plays like Bryan Habana's attempted intercept.

While the Boks went to the break 16-12 ahead, the All Blacks were well in the match without making much play.

The resumption brought a different statement. In 21 seconds the All Blacks took the test from their hosts.

The effect of their opening salvo - to regain the kickoff through Brodie Retallick, send the ball wide to Israel Dagg to make the break for the rampaging Read whose offload was superbly regathered by Nonu - was a thunderous broadside at the Boks.

Suddenly they were chasing the test and did not have the firepower.

A scrum move to send Conrad Smith to the line was another clattering shot from the All Blacks before they sent on the substitutes to hold the match for the last quarter.

They had to do that a man light for 10 minutes when Dagg was sinbinned for a professional foul while McCaw was getting more stitches.

Twenty unanswered points, the 16th win in succession: the All Blacks rolled in and out of Soweto with more questions for international sides. No team have yet worked out how to shut down and outscore them.

Some have had patches of superiority but they eventually succumb to the width of the All Blacks' game, the pace they play at and the multi-skilled players they are developing.

Without McCaw or Carter the All Blacks struggle, however they are working on integrating their deputies. Sam Cane and Aaron Cruden are getting plenty of training ground practice and some matchplay.

Then there is the resurgence of men like Liam Messam.

His renaissance has been one of the strong story lines of the season while Hosea Gear brought out his sparkling power yesterday after weeks of inactivity.

Then there have been the test berths for Aaron Smith, Luke Romano, Brodie Retallick and Julian Savea - a quartet who have repaid the selectors' daring.

It's all been a potent package and one that makes the All Blacks such a compelling pageant.

- NZ Herald

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