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The Great Escape!

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The Great Escape!

The Great Escape!

ABvSAF_Pretoria_2018_primary

LET’S not pour too much cold water on another incredible comeback victory by the All Blacks, but they will need to think about how they got so deep in trouble as much as celebrate getting out of it.

For 60 minutes they were the second best team at Loftus, and Bokke fans must have thought they were in for their first test win over the All Blacks at the old bastion since 1970.

The All Blacks were not great in that time, and some of that might be down to travel fatigue.

Unless you’ve done it, you can’t really contemplate how tough it is to switch from NZ time to Argentina time to South Africa time within a fortnight and function properly.

South Africans have always claimed they were disadvantaged by their travel schedules and you might wonder if this brutal itinerary is about levelling the playing field, if not making life more difficult for the All Blacks, but it’s a challenge New Zealand has taken on every year without complaint because they figure that helps them learn to deal with adversity.

So if they were a bit blunt for a while then it’s understandable. But it doesn’t excuse everything.

They kicked really poorly, too many “uncontestables”, a few miscues, not the normal standard.

They fell off tackles. Nothing structural so don’t go pointing the bone at Scott McLeod, just one on one misses and too many of them. 

They were beaten at the breakdown too, where Malcolm Marx was colossal. Sam Cane was putting up a good fight but he was given a decent tug around the neck at a breakdown (if it had been David Pocock we’d have been hearing about it for weeks), got up looking a bit off colour, and then banged his neck again in a heavy collision. It could have been catastrophic, luckily it wasn’t.

That the All Blacks were able to win came down to three factors.

Firstly, in the white hot cauldron of the final quarter they rediscovered what they had mislaid in Wellington - their ability to think straight, make the right decisions, show the requisite patience, and then execute under pressure. Lesson learned.

They were fitter than the Springboks. Chuck in that travel, and the thin air which is normal for a chunk of that Bok team, and it speaks volumes of the conditioning of that team and the work of Nic Gill, that they were able to finish so well.

And thirdly, they got vastly superior value from their bench.

The Boks felt the need to take off their best two players Faf de Klerk and Marx, because they were spent, and they did not have anywhere near the same quality in reserve.

The All Blacks got career best value out of Ardie Savea, solid stuff from their front row, and TJ Perenara was an energiser.

And Richie Mo’unga poured gasoline on the fires of a debate.

He was direct with his running, testament to his ability to play square to the line. He was decisive, incisive, and his kicking was top drawer.
The long penalty touch finder might have backfired had it bounced infield, but it’s something he’s been doing all year.

It also freed Beauden Barrett up to play out of the back-field, where his speed on cover defence was again a match saver. 

Barrett is still their number one guy, but on this evidence Mo’unga deserves to start at least one of the big tests on the end of year tour with Beaudie either at fullback or off the bench. Whichever way you shape it, it’s a combo that could be a World Cup winner.

Finally, well done to the Springboks.

Some of us will never see them as anything else, but this was a reminder that they remain our greatest foe, and no matter how much they can get lost in a maze of offshore selection, political interference, and Super Rugby underachievement, there is something there that still burns deep and make them come back at you.

If Rassie Erasmus is as smart as he appears, he will learn much from this, and if the politicians can bear to leave him alone, there’ll be a real green and gold threat at next year’s World Cup.

IN closing, a word on the bizarre match in Salta.

The  Pumas looked headed for a ridiculously easy win, but it was as if the teams traded personalities at halftime.

Had things continued on from the first half, it is highly unlikely Michael Cheika would have survived, and so his animated half time spray was understandable, and seemed to do the trick.

But any player of experience will tell you that such an eruption will only work once.

And as good as the Wallabies were in the second forty, the Pumas hit the wall big time, and were a complete write off after the break. 
A stay of execution for Cheika, and nothing more.