Top matches of 2013 - No 1: The greatest test in modern rugby

Beauden Barrett of the All Blacks breaks clear to score the bonus point winning fourth try during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images.
Beauden Barrett of the All Blacks breaks clear to score the bonus point winning fourth try during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images.

The stunning, spectacular and the sentimental, nzherald.co.nz lists the top ten sporting matches of 2013.

The quality and controversy in the All Blacks' thunderous nine-try Rugby International win over South Africa in October made it the greatest test that modern rugby has seen.

The All Blacks wrenched a 38-27 win from the desperate grasp of the Springboks and the throats of the fanatical 63,888 fans packed into Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

Accompanying the devastatingly good rugby was a stack of subplots which kept the massive global television audience (including the die-hard Kiwi fans that got up at 3am to watch) on the edge of their seats throughout.

Top matches of 2013
2: The biggest comeback of all time
3: Kiwis snatch thrilling win
4: England's great Eden escape
5: All Blacks sneak past Ireland
6: Magpies finally win Shield again
7: Drawn in the USA! Ferns make history
8: Bayern knock Barca off their perch
9: Great Scott! Aussie wins Masters
10: Murray wins Wimbledon

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.

It should also be noted that the All Blacks won without Daniel Carter, Cory Jane, Keven Mealamu or Owen Franks. When injury or dips in form hit the squad throughout 2013, the coaches and players 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.

What they said:

Patrick McKendry - APNZ:

A twisting, turning, heart-stopper of a match of the highest quality. To think that the All Blacks reached that level of performance at altitude after travelling from Beunos Aires too.

Highlights? Liam Messam's two tries in a standout performance from him. He spent time in the bin in the second half too, the All Blacks doing extremely well to cope with his absence due to a ruck infringement. Prop Ben Franks spent time there as well for a swinging arm.

Kieran Read's directness - his surprising turn of pace set up Ben Smith's superbly taken try (playing on the right wing, it was probably the final time of the year Smith looked completely at ease, his move to centre proving a problematic one). Read scored one himself later, his speed too much down the left touchline.

Beauden Barrett's cameo, something which has become a habit for him. After shining in the bad-tempered first match between these two teams this year at Eden Park, he outdid himself at Ellis Park, his deceptive power, pace and balance resulting in a brilliant try. He had no right to get back for that cover tackle on flying wing Willie le Roux with four minutes remaining, either, it was defensive commitment of the highest order.

What else? Jean de Villiers' leadership and deserved try, and the athleticism, power and skill of the Springboks' loose forwards.

A memorable test to decide the Rugby Championship, one of the best I've seen, played by two teams near the top of their game and in the right spirit. There was no playing for time and not much kicking for territory. It was the sort of match you don't want to end because there was a surprise around every corner. Lastly, a tip of the hat to referee Nigel Owens, for he played his part too.

Wynne Gray - NZ Herald

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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