Following the Springboks’ 35-7 victory over the All Blacks at Twickenham on Friday, here’s our five takeaways from the Rugby World Cup warm-up fixture.
The top line
A quite remarkable match at Twickenham saw the world champions South Africa deliver a performance of seismic proportions as they crushed New Zealand by 28 points in a masterclass of powerful, pragmatic and on occasions, stellar rugby.
South Africa were slow to capitalise on the Kiwi transgressions, paying due homage to their hosts, England Rugby, by spending the first 18 minutes of the match camped on the All Black line in time honoured tradition without managing to score a single point, but once the deadlock was broken by a spirited drive from the outstanding Siya Kolisi, the floodgates opened, with the Boks sticking to their simple yet effective game plan, as tries from Kurt-Lee Arendse, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi and Kwagga Smith followed.
New Zealand were in grave danger of being nilled, the first time since 1928 when they lost to Boks 17-0, but a breakaway try from Cam Roigard in the 71st minute finally got them on the Twickenham scoreboard, but it didn’t save them from their heaviest defeat margin in history, beating their 28-7 loss to Australia in 1999.
There was absolutely no doubt as to the point of difference between the two sides; legality.
The All Blacks conceded 21 penalties, a quite remarkable 15 in the first half and five in the first four minutes alone, and saw three cards of various hues, with Scott Barrett given a red for a second yellow cardable offence in the second half. There can be no doubt about the accuracy of Matthew Carley’s calls either; it was a litany of dumb technical offences, ranging from early drives in the lineout to simple binding issues at scrum time.
First Scott Barrett saw yellow for cumulative penalties, then six minutes later Sam Cane joined him as he pulled the driving maul down via side entry for the fifth time in 15 minutes. To watch a side so noted for accuracy simply fall apart over that first half was unfathomable, but physical pressure, and there was lots from the Boks, plays strange tricks on opponents and New Zealand simply fell apart in that first half.
To compound their woes, tighthead Tyrel Lomax, a vital cog in their pressured set-piece, went off with a concerning knee cut to the muscle caused by a wayward plastic boot ‘blade’ after 30 minutes, making this pre-World Cup sojourn to Twickenham a dismal day in New Zealand’s pre-tournament build-up.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) August 25, 2023
Centres of attention
Whilst Damian Willemse walked away with the coveted Player of the Match award, a number of the Springbok backs were in contention, and none more so than their two centres, the behemoth Andre Esterhuizen and the silky Canan Moodie. There’s a few good judges that have muttered that Moodie is a superstar of the future for the Boks and from his display at outside centre today those claims are justified. He was simply brilliant at times – a wonderful offload around the back of a tackler leaving Twickenham stunned, and a disallowed length of the field try where he turned Jordie Barrett and Richie Mo’unga inside out before touching down.
With Esterhuizen making the gains that other sides simply dream of in the 12 channel it might just be that the Springboks have found their optimal partnership, one of wonderful contrast of power and pace, just in time for the defence of their world title defence.
Cane revealed after the match that he was particularly disappointed in the manner in which the Kiwi set-piece went, considering how much improvement they’d made in the Rugby Championship under Jason Ryan in terms of their scrum and lineout.
“Once we were penalised a couple of times for early drives in the lineout we made the point that we felt South Africa were jumping across our gap but it’s all split second stuff and it was hard to adjust to what they were doing.
Head coach Ian Foster added: “I just think South Africa played magnificently tonight – they played a really physical game, they started strong and put us under a lot of pressure and deserve a big pat on the back for that performance.
“You know, as we go on to a World Cup it’s a very clear reminder about the importance of set-piece importance, of getting your scrum and lineout right and maintaining your discipline. And making sure you don’t give them teams repeated chances to have a crack at your line, but by saying that I thought in the first 20 minutes our defence was actually outstanding.
“Clearly we were a little bit too keen and anxious in those early moments. So a lot of good lessons learned but we just we lost our cohesion. But in the final analysis I’d rather have those lessons today than a couple of weeks out at the World Cup.”
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) August 25, 2023
The neutral ground
With this fixture being played at Twickenham, a neutral ground, the support for both sides was exceptional, and both captains agreed it was a special occasion and one worth repeating in the future.
“Yeah, I thought it was amazing,” Kolisi told Planet Rugby. “To see the so many South Africans and Kiwis on the way to the stadium was honestly special. I think everybody enjoyed it, hopefully and that’s why I said in the week there’s no ways we can go out in front of 82,000 people and fail.
“The people in the UK don’t get to see these two teams play against each other very often so we had to give it everything today.
“I think in future if we if something like this can happen once again, it will be amazing. You could see the excitement of the people enjoying the best the Southern Hemisphere can offer and that was very special to be a part of,” Kolisi confirmed.
New Zealand skipper Cane added: “As a team that we’re pretty excited about playing the Boks, a team we’ve got a huge amount of expect respect for in a neutral venue. It’s quite a iconic stadium so we were looking forward to the experience. It’s turned out to be a bad one for us this time, but if it works in with the schedule and calendar then you probably say yeah, let’s do it again.”