Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Bench play vital role in stunning All Blacks' win

As predicted, NZ reserves had major influence on test outcome.

Impact from the bench, former All Black coach John Mitchell predicted, might prove to be the critical difference in the Rugby Championship shootout.

Mitchell and the NZRU do not see eye to eye but his conjecture proved right on the money with current supremo Steve Hansen.

"We emptied our tank and theirs because we think we have one of the best benches in the world," Hansen said after the pulsating 38-27 victory against South Africa.

Beauden Barrett found some gold nuggets when he came on for the injured Aaron Cruden and the coach delivered higher praise for Steven Luatua who was used on the blindside and then lock in a busy last quarter.

The All Blacks were stunned when Bryan Habana scored twice inside the opening quarter.

A double response came from Liam Messam whose selection has never been watertight and who came under further heat this week with confirmation Jerome Kaino was returning to New Zealand. Messam surged over for his first with help from Chiefs teammate Brodie Retallick and then, crucially, skipped over when the match had run well into halftime.

The Boks clocked off and the All Blacks dialled in after Kieran Read pilfered the ball from a breakdown. His teammates kept the ball moving until Andrew Hore offloaded the last vital transfer for Messam on a damaging cut run to the line.

It was a crucial blow to the Boks' morale and an example of the work ethic and All Black skill components. Their widespread athletic flair is a shade up on the Boks who have dextrous forwards like Francois Louw to offload out of the tackle but also a few clunkers.

In the same move which delivered Messam's double, five eighths Aaron Cruden caught and passed so quickly under pressure that he sucked in a defending forward.

Later there was a telling grubber kick out of defence by Sam Whitelock which changed the momentum and Read showed his class to claim the last vital try. Defensive heroes from both sides littered Ellis Park but Julian Savea's race back to clobber Willie Le Roux then Barrett's desperate chase and ankle tap on the same player were vital All Black gems.

It was compelling rugby. It was a test in which the All Blacks matched everything thrown at them.

Altitude, counter-attack, forward menace - they brought their combat kit with all the physical and mental weapons needed to confront the Springbok armoury.

Two decades ago Warwick Roger wrote Old Heroes which was a compelling account about his teenage connection to the 1956 series in New Zealand as the All Blacks clashed with the Springboks. In 2013 the country has some New Heroes, a group who kept cool as they journeyed to the red-hot atmosphere of Ellis Park and claimed their prize in the heart of enemy territory.

- NZ Herald

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