A crisis is looming in New Zealand rugby after the All Blacks fell to a second consecutive Tri-Nations defeat in South Africa on Saturday.
A crisis is looming in New Zealand rugby after the All Blacks fell to a second consecutive Tri-Nations defeat in South Africa, 31-19 in Durban on Saturday.
Morne Steyn scored every single one of his team's points with a terrific display of place-kicking.
The All Blacks had challenged themselves to respond from last week's defeat in Bloemfontein. But their comebacks lacked incision and/or punch. At times they ran at illusory gaps in ridiculous field positions, at other times the passing was so woefully inaccurate you wondered if they had done any linking work at all in training in the week.
Some players ran when they should have kicked, others took contact when they should have run, others kicked when they should have taken contact… the list of wrong options goes on. However much laent talent there is in this team, it is simply not gelling. Whether that is a brains trust matter, a matter of the personalities or mentalities of the players themselves or a lack of leadership is difficult to say, but one thing is clear, if this is the squad trusted to take New Zealand rugby forward, it needs to sit down together and thrash out a number of issues regarding strategy, handling and teamwork, for all three were errant here.
Another thing clear is that Joe Rokocoko badly needs a rest. His talent is as unrefutable as his current form is atrocious, and Graham Henry cannot afford to hang him out to dry any longer. A spell scoring tries in the Air New Zealand Cup would be just the tonic the big wing needs. Another international appearance like this could scar him for life.
He was not the only one to have an off-day on Saturday though, with Stephen Donald going a good way to proving his doubters right, Ma'a Nonu once again subdued and Sitiveni Sivivatu inexplicably error-prone. Even Richie McCaw fell prone to some extraordinary mistakes during the second half, a disturbing development for All Black fans to witness.
South Africa once again made it as ugly a win as can be, but find a Springbok supporter who cares. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and none of the green-clad present will find a more beautiful vision on Sunday than the Tri-Nations table, nor would they remember one more than the departure of the twice-beaten All Blacks.
We mentioned in our preview that statistics tell so much of rugby's tale. Here's a few from this game: New Zealand made twice as many handling errors: 28-14. New Zealand gave away penalties: 14-8, New Zealand lost line-outs on their own throw: 4-1. New Zealand lost their own scrums: 2-0. Did South Africa win this or did New Zealand throw it away?
A bit of both really. South Africa never once let up the pressure on their opponents, harrying, chivvying, bulldozing and squeezing out all the errors and penalties, with Morne Steyn's boot punishing everything it was given the chance to.
Once Rokocoko and Sivivatu had revealed their fragility under the high balls, the Boks were merciless in their exploitation. The panic that set in and the pressure the All Blacks put themselves under to pass and run their way out of the holes was fast food to the Bok defence, which was just as merciless in its sacking of any isolated All Black – there was an inexplicably high number of those too – as it was in pouncing on the handling errors and punishing the infringements.
The teams exchanged penalties early on as Nigel Owens stamped his authority on the game. He was consistent, if stringent, and controlled the game with his usual measured schoolmaster approach, challenging the teams to respond.
New Zealand responded first, with Richie McCaw making a break from a line-out on his own 22 before setting Nonu and Muliaina away, but with Sivivatu slipping it seemed the move had died. But there was Rokocoko to flip the ball out and Isaac Ross once again displayed a flash of his immense promise with the try in the corner.
Donald converted from the touchline to make it 10-3 after ten minutes and briefly, advantage All Blacks.
But back came the Boks with the pressure. High balls, big tackles, vigorous rucks. An offside after 14 minutes, 10-6. Holding on isolated in the tackle, 10-9.
Another breakout from the All Blacks, led by Muliaina was halted by a high tackle on Jimmy Cowan, which saw JP Pietersen sent to the bin and Donald make it 13-9, but Ross followed Pietersen moments later for a silly offside, from which Steyn made it 13-12.
The killer blow was landed by Steyn, typically capitalising on a huge piece of defensive work fom his scrum, which turned New Zealand ball over three metres from the line. All the Bulls fly-half had to do was step and dive over, a manoeuvre he made look decidedly nonchalant.
His conversion made it 19-13 and there was another penalty just before half-time as well which made it 22-13.
Donald and Steyn shared four penalties early in the second half, which was rendered a stalemate by a combination of the Bok defence and All Black mis-handling, but the pressure from the men in green just did not let up – even while Bakkies Botha was off the field for ten minutes for hanging about offside.
Steyn landed a late penalty to put the game beyond reach and could have made the score more emphatic in the final minute, but inexplicably pushed a simple late penalty wide. Not to worry. He now holds the record for the most points scored in any one Tri-Nations game, beating Andrew Mehrtens' previous best, and with that, plus a Lions-conquering kick to show for his first five caps, it could be that success could follow him everywhere he goes. In fact, with the Boks in this form, he can't fail.
Man of the match: We can go on about Steyn, but again, this was a win built on hard work and physicality, with the epitome of the winning style being Juan Smith. An immense display.
Moment of the match: Not many to choose from, but for aesthetics, we might go for Isaac Ross' try – one of very few open bits of play in the game.
Villain of the match: Nothing on the field, but how about the marketeers who continue to saturate the market with so many fixtues that some 8,000 empty seats could be witnessed at Absa Stadium? How can a Test match of this prestige not be a sell-out? Because there's always the next one around the corner, that's why…
For South Africa:
Tries: M Steyn
Cons: M Steyn
Pens: M Steyn 8
For New Zealand:
Pens: Donald 3, McAlister
Yellow cards: Pietersen (South Africa, 29, high tackle), Ross (New Zealand, 30, deliberate infringement), Botha (South Africa, 50, deliberate infringement)
South Africa: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 MornÃ© Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Heinrich BrÃ¼ssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4