The final installment of a series of columns from the heartland of South African rugby.
The final installment of a series of columns on the Rugby Championship from the heartland of South African rugby.
Planet Rugby's Ross Hastie returned to the Highveld – where the air is thin but the steaks are thick; where the trees turn to purple in October but the Bulls are blue all year round; where the roads are like Springbok forwards – they're wide and run straight for miles; where some Lions have added green to their gold; where bombs drop from very high; where speed is important, size counts, but experience matters most – to give you a view from the inside.
Day 13: All Hail King Richie!
Very often in sport, big events fail to live up to the hype that inevitably comes from the media, advertisers and promoters but it's fair to say that Saturday's clash between the top two sides in the world lived up to expectations.
At the post-match press conference All Blacks coach Steve Hansen made a statement before fielding any questions, making a point of highlighting what a quality display had been on offer – from both sides – saying it was “great for rugby” and congratulating his skipper on one of the greatest achievements in the history of the sport.
Boks fans were handed a massive reality check and will obviously be disappointed that their team could not maintain the intensity shown in the first half, but no one can complain that they were not treated to a fantastic show. And everyone should acknowledge that 100 Test wins is worth a tip of the hat, irrespective of the colour of your passport.
Staging an event of this size is no easy feat and the crowd itself provided a few talking points. The atmosphere outside was electric despite the traffic carnage. It took our media bus over 90 minutes to make the short journey from Sandton to Nasrec (no, despite what you've been told, Soccer City is NOT in Soweto – it's close, but by no stretch of the reasonable imagination is it IN the famous southern Johannesburg suburb). The fact that our bus driver had no idea where he was going didn't help, and the U-turns in the middle of the traffic jams earned a few laughs.
The 95 000-seater stadium wasn't quite full but the roar from the crowd when the Boks took the field was nevertheless breathtaking. In my personal experience, the only thing I can compare it to is a goal from Boca Juniors at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires. It was also heartwarming to hear the first half of the South African anthem sung with gusto, in stark contrast to Loftus a week ago.
Back to the game itself and Heyneke Meyer summed it up best when he said it would “take a special team to beat these All Blacks,” adding that a dose of luck and a sympathetic ref would help too!
King Richie – who was wearing an impressive shiner and grin – probably didn't have the best game of the 100 wins but Dan Carter's performance was out of the top draw. Hansen went as far as to say it was DC's “best ever performance against the Springboks.” The drop goal has now become part of the Carter's quiver. He clearly is the most complete fly-half ever to play the game.
Once again Meyer pointed to his team's lack of experience but time is starting to run out for that to be an excuse. If you are picked to wear the green jersey, you should be good enough to play at this level. How many more defeats must Bok fans endure before their team is experienced enough to win all their games on home soil?
Perhaps more significant was the question that Meyer didn't, no, couldn't answer. The matter of central contracting – which would allow the Bok coach to have a say in his player's management over the course of the season – is the great elephant in the room of South African rugby.
“I wish I could answer that honestly. It's a question for SARU,” said the Bok coach.
The Boks were dead on the feet in the last 20 minutes, but what can you expect when many have them have been thrashing their bodies since February?
The truth is, New Zealand are way ahead of their southern hemisphere counterparts, both on and off the field.
Look out for Planet Rugby's exclusive, in-depth interview with Heyneke Meyer next week