All Blacks 35
Welcome back, All Blacks.
After a tumultuous 2022 where the national team slumped into a deep dark funk, the All Blacks have officially pulled back the curtains to shine a light on their revival.
Last week’s dominant performance against the Pumas in Mendoza hinted the All Blacks were a force again.
Who better to confirm those suspicions than the Springboks?
The Rugby Championship title will mean little by the end of this year but the All Blacks place one hand on that trophy with a compelling victory over the world champions at Mt Smart Stadium.
This was an impressive statement from the All Blacks that suggested they have all the tools and tactical nous to challenge for this year’s World Cup.
From the outset the All Blacks largely nullified South Africa’s vaunted physicality to hold the Boks scoreless for 35 minutes.
The Springboks, in their first venture to New Zealand for four years, couldn’t hack the All Blacks’ pace and tempo to trail 20-3 by halftime. While the Boks responded in the second half after unleashing their notorious bomb squad bench so, too, did the All Blacks eventually reach for their counterpunch.
Not even losing Sam Cane to injury at halftime seriously derailed the All Blacks.
After the depths of their struggles last year the All Blacks have now gone nine tests unbeaten, including the late collapse in the draw with England at Twickenham last November.
Their progress, though, has never been clearer than on this occasion.
Shannon Frizell set the tone for the All Blacks with a beast mode performance. Following on from his efforts against the Pumas, Frizell carried like a man possessed. His try, steamrolling over the top of Boks fullback Willie le Roux, was a sight to behold. With punishing defence and one breakdown penalty, Frizell further stated his case to retain the No 6 jersey.
Variation was the spice of life for the All Blacks. Hard, direct running lines, from the forwards to Jordie Barrett at second five-eighth and Beauden Barrett from fullback, propelled the All Blacks on the front foot.
At the lineout, with their tactical kicking and use of the ball, the All Blacks left the Springboks flummoxed, not knowing where to look next in the opening quarter.
The All Blacks used the breadth of lineout options to keep the Boks guessing but for all their forward-powered physicality it was their kicking game that did the damage.
Creating space against swarming line speed has been kryptonite for the All Blacks. By kicking to the edges, chipping in behind the defence and hoisting contestable bombs on the edge, the All Blacks regularly split the Boks open. It was a tactical masterclass.
Roaming wings Will Jordan and Mark Telea were superb in the air to feast on the Boks mistakes under pressure – Jordan in particular relishing his return to the test scene after a 10-month absence with a migraine related condition.
In the depths of their struggles last year starts were a major issue for the All Blacks. In two tests this year, they have banished those issues to lead 31-0 against the Pumas in Mendoza and by 17 points at halftime here.
Such was the ferocity of their onslaught the All Blacks held a commanding 17-0 advantage after 15 minutes to leave the Boks rattled. Chasing the game, the Boks resorted to taking quick throws that didn’t come off and spilling simple goal line dropouts.
South Africa’s split squad strategy – sending 13 starters to New Zealand ahead of time – appeared to backfire as they lacked any form of cohesion.
The Springboks eventually settled into their traditional crash bash approach but, even then, the All Blacks defence held firm by repelling the Boks maul on the try line and holding captain Eben Etzebeth up.
The second half was a different story, however. The Springboks unleashed RG Snyman, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen and Malcolm Marx to amplify the breakdown pressure on the All Blacks and gain the upper hand at scrum time, too.
Two tries – one from a maul and the second after a le Roux cut out ball sent Cheslin Kolbe in at the corner – threatened a comeback.
The All Blacks have been at their most vulnerable with large leads – this was the case in the draw against England and the tense Bledisloe win in Melbourne last year. Last week they couldn’t maintain momentum against the Pumas, either.
Not this time, though.
The All Blacks finished over the top of the Boks to emphatically reinstate their credentials.
All Blacks 35 (Aaron Smith, Shannon Frizell, Will Jordan, Richie Mo’unga tries; Richie Mo’unga 3 cons, 3 pens)
Springboks 20 (Malcolm Marx, Cheslin Kolbe, Kwagga Smith tries; Faf de Klerk pen, Cheslin Kolbe con)