THE Springboks have not just caught up with the All Blacks — they are beating New Zealand at their own game.
Saturday’s pulsating 27-25 victory at Ellis Park was not just a triumph on the scoreboard, it will also imbue the Springboks with huge confidence that they were able to tame the free-running All Blacks, taking a leaf from their play book. For that, they needed belief following drab kick-fests in their away Tests in the Rugby Championships.
"The whole team has confidence," flyhalf Handrè Pollard said following his match-winning performance that yielded 19 points.
Pollard was perhaps the chief purveyor of confidence with a calm and collected display.
"New Zealand has had that for years and it is something that we picked up over the last few months," said the young pivot.
The All Blacks, too, noted a deviation from the Boks’s direct game that had relied heavily on tactical kicking.
"I don’t think we were surprised by it," All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said. "I think we’ve seen them in this Championships play with a lot more width than they had before.
"We gave them too much width in that first half and that probably encouraged them. We fed that part of their game and they grew in confidence."
Apart from confidence, the Springboks also needed more tangible tools to get the job done. Their conditioning proved their downfall in the corresponding game a year ago, but not so this time. "I always said that I’d never be satisfied with our fitness and that we have to get fitter if we want to beat the All Blacks," Bok coach Heyneke Meyer said.
"Basil Crazies (the fitness coach) and the players deserve credit. Our fitness has improved and that was perhaps the difference. It is going to be an important component in the World Cup."
Apart from confidence, the Springboks also needed more tangible tools to get the job done. Their conditioning proved their downfall in the corresponding game a year ago, but not so this time.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was gracious after his team’s 22-match unbeaten streak was broken. Even more surprising, the 55-year-old wasn’t grumpy about referee Wayne Barnes’s decision that led to Pat Lambie’s long-range penalty, which sealed the win two minutes from time.
"I have no problem with Barnes giving the penalty. I don’t think there was any intention to take the guy (Chalk Burger) head high. Unfortunately that’s what happened. Things like that happen in rugby.
"Well done to the Boks, they were due one. You people can get off Heyneke’s back now. I thought it was a great game of rugby again. It could have gone either way but my heart tells me that the Boks probably deserved it."
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was gracious too but did not sound like a man who would take this lying down. He acknowledged that this defeat to the Boks must draw a reaction.
"There is very little between these two teams, as we saw. I’m sure the majority of the players will be around in 12 months’ time. There is still a way to go before we get there (the World Cup).
"From our point of view we have to be better. That is the reality of what you’ve got to do these days.
"We can’t say it was our turn to lose. That’s just not who we are," he reminded ominously.