Herald rugby writers Wynne Gray, Daniel Richardson and Kris Shannon answer three key questions from this morning's Rugby Championship test between the All Blacks and the Springboks.
1. According to Graham Henry the All Blacks had to lose a test to learn more. What will Steve Hansen take out of this loss?
Wynne Gray: Steve Hansen will take a folder-full of ideas about his men, his strategies and where everyone in the All Black squad rose and sagged in the intense heat of international battle. Carrying some of the unconscious weight of preserving an unbeaten sequence, will now be replaced by a renewed drive for excellence.
Daniel Richardson: Hansen will likely look at the fact that South Africa are a different side with Handre Pollard at first-five. The young pivot takes the ball to the line and creates indecision among the defensive line. Pollard was the best player at this year's under-20 World Cup and looks to be the goods at the top level. All Blacks beware.
Kris Shannon: Hansen's main takeaway will be about the opposition, rather than his own side. There was little surprising about the All Blacks - they produced a magnificent effort with a heavily-depleted team and fell just short. South Africa, on the other hand, crystallised just how dangerous they will be at next year's World Cup. This was a different Springboks side, one that took on the All Blacks at their own game and won. Their normally conservative nature was eschewed in favour of free-flowing attack that came from all over the park. And it's frightening to think what Handre Pollard can accomplish with a little more experience under his belt.
Malakai Fekitoa put in another impressive display in the No 12 jersey. Photo / Getty Images
2. Were the All Blacks hard done by with the final two penalties?
WG: It's pointless to get in any great tizz about the maze of mystery rulings in every match. Wayne Barnes did his best to keep up and found penalties throughout which looked debatable while he got most of the forward passes and used the TMO judiciously.
DR: No, not at all. Liam Messam and everyone else will agree; you can't make contact with a player's head like that. It is always sad when a player gives away a penalty in such circumstances that it influences a result but that's the way it goes. Wayne Barnes was generally pretty good with the whistle, although he was pedantic in the first 20 minutes it probably helped set a standard for the game.
: The final, match-winning penalty was certainly debatable, owing as much to a partisan television director, an outraged crowd and a canny Jean de Villiers as it did to Liam Messam's shoulder. But, despite the circumstances in which the call came about, the correct decision was eventually made. Schalk Burger was slipping as he fell into the tackle but Messam made clear contact with his opponent's head, in a collision that featured only a token attempt from the All Black at using an arm. Unintentional, it appeared, but still outside of the laws of the game.
3. The best All Black on the park was ... ?
WG: Malakai Fekitoa, who is an infrequent second five eighths yet showed consistent defensive awareness, hard straight running and ball control in the congested traffic areas of the park.
DR: Richie McCaw is in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He is something else. His workrate is nearly unrivalled and he is still forcing turnovers at the age of 33. There will be the odd question as to why he turned down a couple of attempts at goal mid-way through the second spell. It's easy to look at it with hindsight but those points would have made a difference.
KS: Malakai Fekitoa had another strong game at second five but it's hard to go past the most experienced All Black on the park and, in surpassing Colin Meads, now the most experienced All Black ever. Richie McCaw played with as much verve as he used to display 100 tests ago, seeming to relish the immense occasion. The captain got through a tremendous amount of work on what was a busy day for the All Blacks' defence, making a match-high 14 tackles and snaffling two precious turnovers in the breakdown. McCaw was also vindicated for twice turning down the points in the second half, with a weight of pressure eventually translating to a pair of tries.