Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: The greatest test in modern rugby

The quality and controversy of this thunderous nine-try thriller will be talked about for years to come.

Time fuels the mystique about legendary rugby tests but the All Blacks' latest victory against the Springboks will be hard to budge from the Hall of Fame.

No modern test has delivered as much quality and controversy as the 38-27 win the All Blacks wrenched from the desperate grasp of the Springboks and the throats of the fanatical Ellis Park crowd.

If the nine-try thriller was not enough to rouse the 63,888 spectators a stack of subplots will keep a massive global television audience and the bars and braiis in Johannesburg fermenting into next season.

Debate simmered about Dane Coles' participation because his name was not on the team sheet, several tries went to the TMO for review, Liam Messam and Ben Franks were sinbinned, Richie McCaw played his first test in 120 on the sacred ground and referee Nigel Owens tweaked a calf muscle.

Ace Springbok wing Bryan Habana scored twice in the opening 20 minutes then retired with a strained hamstring; Ben Smith clicked over his try-scoring tally; and replacement five-eighths Beauden Barrett skipped past four defenders for the vital championship bonus point.

Like most, Conrad Smith could barely run in the last 10 minutes as his lungs and legs rebelled against the frenzied pace of the test. His year is done now as he plans a rest before the next Super 15 campaign.

Those who played yesterday might envy Smith's timing after a test which wrenched at their spirit and skills throughout. There was no let-up, no downtime or sparring as the sides delivered a classic extravaganza.

In 2000 against Australia, the All Blacks' late 39-35 win was billed as the greatest game ever played. If that description had added "in Sydney on a Saturday night", it might have had more veracity. The clash of the Old Firms yesterday was several notches superior. Years from now, rugby congregations will be talking about October 6, 2013, and their views on this test.

It began with a jet fly-over in a nod to the magnificent theatre of the extra-time World Cup final between the same two nations in 1995.

This time there was a different result and the Boks were left sagging and picking at the turf with their boots as the All Blacks crested the victory podium. "These boys," beaten skipper Jean de Villiers said of the All Blacks, "have set the bar and it is our duty to catch up to them."

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It was a thunderous battle between the top-rated sides in the world and a dramatic conclusion to an exhausting series which journeys through New Zealand, Argentina and also Australia.

High in the stand, England coach Stuart Lancaster watched the fury unfold as he projected his plans towards a return clash with the All Blacks at Twickenham - the scene of their last defeat.

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Since that 38-21 loss, the All Blacks have won nine successive tests, with the Wallabies the final domestic target in Dunedin before the trip to Europe.

The All Blacks won yesterday without Daniel Carter, Cory Jane, Keven Mealamu or Owen Franks, who started at Twickenham. When injury or dips in form have hit the squad since that test, the coaches and players have found ways to compensate.

Once again they showed that at Ellis Park in a formidable result and another remarkable chapter in the history of All Black rugby.

- NZ Herald

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