Wynne Gray on sport

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: All Blacks' 1000th win poses many questions for Boks

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Cory Jane offloads the ball. Photo / Getty Images
Cory Jane offloads the ball. Photo / Getty Images

The contrast was inescapable. Springbok captain John Smit sank to his haunches in despair as the All Blacks savoured the rush of a famous test victory in Soweto.

Smit will recall his 100th test for all the wrong reasons after he missed a tackle which led to the All Blacks escaping with a 29-22 victory.

His wife was in tears in the 94,700 crowd and All Black skipper Richie McCaw understood the emotional turmoil in a test which became the tale of two captains.

McCaw sucked up massive disappointment at the last World Cup when his side was upset by France. Similar pain followed when his side lost three times to the Boks last year.

Three minutes from time yesterday in Soweto, the Boks seemed to have redressed this season's Tri-Nations losing streak.

Then McCaw got the benefit of the doubt from television match official Sean Veldsman, for a try as he planted the ball and his boot cut the touchline.

The evidence was imperfect but the All Blacks lucked in.

Big time, after the match officials missed a forward pass at the start of the move. Carter missed the sideline conversion for victory and a deadlock seemed a just conclusion.

But there were more twists in this remarkable fixture.

The Boks regained their own kickoff, lost the ball in contact and conceded a converted try to replacement left wing Israel Dagg after Ma'a Nonu broke the line.

The culprit? Smit who was left holding Nonu's right boot and empty dreams for the fourth successive test.

All Black coach Graham Henry felt his side ran the Boks down in the last quarter as they struggled with the pace of the game.

It was an assessment captured by Smit's inelegant late defence.

He is a tremendous captain and ambassador for the game. He contributes a huge amount to the Boks but his tread is getting slower, his time at the top shorter, his use-by date is approaching.

Smit's international longevity will be a great poser for the man himself, coach Peter de Villiers and others.

The All Blacks had the 1000th win in their remarkable rugby history while the Boks have ugly memories as their companion until the sides meet again in Wellington next July.

Victory clinched the Tri-Nations and pushed the All Blacks winning streak out to 14 successive wins.

They did not, and were not allowed to, play with the freedom they showed against the Boks in Auckland and Wellington earlier this season.

South Africa kept pushing up in defence, hitting in cluster tackles, shutting down the All Blacks time on the ball.

They won penalties, Morne Steyn kicked goals and when he surprisingly ignored a close shot, Schalk Burger clanked over from a tap move.

On a rare time when the All Blacks got their continuity game in sync, Tony Woodcock had a huge overlap to amble across the line.

But the All Blacks were trailing 14-16 at the break, the first halftime deficit this year as more heat from the Boks created more mistakes.

They kicked more for territory, the All Blacks chose to retain possession for longer.

Carter missed a couple of goalkicks and after the interval had a kick charged down near the All Blacks line. Minutes later he responded with a goosestepping run just short of the Boks' line.

His production was not at his sublime best but Carter's ability to stay calm under blast-furnace pressure delivers confidence to his teammates. Even when his own game is a shade out of whack he remains unflappable.

In the green No 10 jersey, Steyn began well, his goalkicking was peerless but he unravelled as the pressure grew. He kicked dead several times and started to chip a few teammates.

The Boks were looking fatigued. They wanted to hang on for their skipper 'Barney', their country and their buddies.

Somehow they were run down in the straight. When both teams discuss the match again, neither will believe what occurred.

The All Blacks will fly home with the satisfied glow of victory, their job done and they can now dovetail some other squad members into the starting XV for Sydney.

They know if they are to improve they have to keep checking out new talent.

You wonder if that same message will permeate the Springboks.

- NZ Herald

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