This one will be painful for the Springboks to watch back.
The All Blacks had no right to win the match based on the first sixty minutes, but did, while the Springboks will have to learn the cruelest of lessons after a poor showing in the last quarter, effectively gifting the visitors the match with a terrible bench performance.
The Springboks had strangled the All Blacks into a six-all stalemate at halftime, using clinical territorial kicking and defensive pressure to keep them deep in their own half. In a staggering reversal of the Wellington test, the Boks had over 70 percent possession and territory.
In the second half, they gained ascendancy by breaking the All Blacks early through Jesse Kriel. When his centre partner Damian de Allende scored another under the posts in the 51st minute it looked like the Boks would make a statement, having the All Blacks totally outmatched at 23-6.
The first blip occurred directly after the restart, when Codie Taylor exposed some feeble ruck defence during transition after a Faf de Klerk box kick, scampering away to put Aaron Smith over.
The Springboks responded very quickly with a return try to Cheslin Kolbe alleviating concerns, restoring the 17-point lead at 30-13 with a quarter to go.
This is where South African stomachs will churn.
Eben Etzebeth and Francois Louw collided with each other, spilling the kickoff and immediately returning the ball to the All Blacks. From the ensuing scrum, they get penalised, handing away more metres. From the five-metre lineout maul, the All Blacks spread wide and Rieko Ioane scores in the corner to give them a sniff at 30-18.
Unfortunately for the Springboks, fullback Willie Le Roux left the field for an HIA in the 65th minute and never returned, leaving them without the experience required in the dying stages.
Pushing for a game-clinching try only 2-metres from the tryline in the 66th minute, Francois Louw was turned over by Ardie Savea after replacements RG Snyman and Vincent Koch failed to effectively clean out.
Still holding a 30-18 lead, Faf de Klerk was substituted with eight minutes left, taking South Africa’s two key experienced players off the field.
Immediately after, Pieter-Steph du Toit and replacement hooker Mbongeni Mbonami were penalised for a lifting tackle, giving the All Blacks another lineout maul from the five. They went 13 phases of one-out running before Scott Barrett crashed over with five minutes remaining, putting them within striking distance at 30-25.
The All Blacks had to exit from the kickoff, giving the Springboks back the ball on their own 40 with three and half minutes remaining. It was now down to a one-possession game, where one mistake could decide the outcome.
On the very first phase, RG Snyman threw a speculative offload to no one that Handre Pollard had to clean up and take into contact. On the next phase replacement halfback Embrose Papier tried to run from the base by himself.
The lack of composure was alarming, with helter-skelter play putting the Springboks out of control.
The kicking from the first half that pinned the All Blacks into the corners and soaked clock by playing for set-piece was apparently not in the thought process.
The next phase three Springbok forwards – Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi and RG Snyman – failed to protect the ball-carrier Vincent Koch, leaving him exposed to Ardie Savea who came up with another big-time penalty. Richie Mo’unga nailed a 60-metre touchfinder down to the five-metre line, giving the All Blacks the ultimate chance to snatch the victory.
Ardie Savea scored from a pick-and-go with sixty seconds left and Richie Mo’unga kicked the winning conversion as time expires.
This would be a Houdini-act if not for the fact that the Springboks not only handed the keys to the handcuffs around the All Blacks’ wrists, they unlocked the cuffs for them.
To give the All Blacks three possessions from the five-metre line, which ended with 19-points, is a capitulation of the highest order.
The Springboks bench completely failed the side, with nearly all reserves coming up with inexcusable errors. With le Roux not recovering from an HIA assessment, taking off Faf de Klerk ended up being a disastarous decision, leaving the side short of composure and decision-making.
Just when Springbok rugby looked so good, it turned so bad.
The pain of this gut-wrenching loss could possibly outweigh the euphoria of the win in Wellington. The All Blacks ‘could’ve’ won at the Cake tin, but they should never have been able to win in Pretoria.
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