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Spanking an old Springboks side not the best yardstick

By Hamish Bidwell
RG Snyman of South Africa looks to pass during The Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and South Africa Springboks at Mt Smart Stadium on July 15, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

I’m not sure South Africa – or at least Saturday night’s iteration – are that good a yardstick.

That was an old Springboks side. A team of Rugby World Cup winners nearer the end of their careers than the start.


I was reminded of New Zealand’s 1991 squad, in that regard.

Starting Malcom Marx would be a help to South Africa. As would picking some of the more youthful personnel, who beat Australia in the first round of The Rugby Championship.

I don’t want to diminish what the All Blacks did, in beating the Springboks 35-20 at Mt Smart Stadium. But I also think it would be premature to proclaim that New Zealand is suddenly the team to beat at the upcoming Rugby World Cup, on the back of claiming that scalp.

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That said, when the All Blacks were good on Saturday, they were very, very good.

Their opening salvo was superb. Physical, skillful and playing at speed, New Zealand produced a level of rugby that will challenge any team this year.

But where did that go, at 20-3? How did the match become start-top? Why did the All Blacks kick so often and allow South Africa to get into a set-piece-to-set-piece grind?

That suited the ageing Springboks, with their rock-solid scrum and increasingly effective rolling maul.


It’s to the All Blacks’ absolute credit that they absorbed South Africa’s pressure and then still had enough quality to kill the game off. It just would have been nice to see them try to maintain the tempo of the first 20 minutes for longer.

If there’s something I’ll take away from the match, it’s the All Blacks’ vigour at the breakdown.

We have worried about this team being bullied and we’ve lamented their inability to physically impose themselves upon opponents.

The All Blacks have been better at that so far this year and that’s something that should really encourage their fanbase.


They should now give the Wallabies a hiding in their home-and-away clashes and then we can look forward to the Springboks at Twickenham on August 26.

I watched a bit of New Zealand’s run to seventh place, at the World Rugby U20 Championship in South Africa.

Our U20 side has skill and pace, but no grunt. The forwards all appeared good with ball in hand, but not so flash at what used to be considered the core roles.

That’s where the All Blacks are impressing me at the moment and that’s where New Zealand rugby as a whole has to place more emphasis.

Will Jordan was terrific on Saturday and his performance has generated plenty of headlines since. But the wing is not where real rugby games are won.

We appear to have lost sight of that at age-group level but, pleasingly, someone’s reminded the All Blacks that backs are still only as good as the platform laid for them by forwards.

So I’m heartened by what I’ve seen from the team thus far. In fact, pleasantly surprised would be more accurate.

I feared that we had become soft touches. That we’d given up trying to compete physically and that this coaching group was out of ideas.

Sterner tests await the All Blacks than South Africa could muster on Saturday night.

That’s not to say these Springboks won’t rouse themselves at some stage this year. But a few of them looked past it on Saturday and the average nights might become more prevalent than the good ones.

These All Blacks are in the ascendant, though, and that’s a pretty good place to be this close to a world cup.


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Jon 334 days ago

Why did the All Blacks kick so often and allow South Africa to get into a set-piece-to-set-piece grind?
Keeping the powder dry obviously.

Flankly 335 days ago

Not sure what counts as a "spanking". Would 26-10 at Mbombela qualify?

I seem to recall a lot of people declaring Bok superiority over NZ then, much like they are doing in reverse today. I also recall that the tables were quickly turned.

That is how it is in top tier rugby. A week is a long time, because all the teams have good analytics and can make adjustments to address holes in the boat. That is especially true for teams that have an experienced squad of versatile players.

A repeat of the Sat game could look very different.

Nickers 335 days ago

Apparently no good performance by the ABs counts for anything any more. Why even bother watching or writing about their games?

So many people have lost sight of the fact the ABs can be playing very well, while at the same time not be favourites for the World Cup based on that performance.

Why must every game be viewed through such a binary lens? Yes just because they won it doesn't mean they are going to win world cup, I don't think anyone thinks that. Likewise if they play badly for 20 or 30 minutes it doesn't mean they are definitely going to get knocked out in the QFs.

Not that long ago they barely scraped past Japan, self destructed against England, capitulated to a spirited Argentina, looked like boys playing against men vs Ireland, and should have lost to a very limited Australia team. Two dominant performances in a row is a great place to be now.

Their QF will be against a team who would be worthy champions, they will need to play the game of their lives AND have some luck to progress. Not a single sensible person thinks any of the games they are playing now will somehow guarantee world cup success or failure. They can only play the team in front of them on any given day, there is no magical yardstick that will tell anyone anything about what will happen in the world cup.

GrahamVF 335 days ago

Well whet is comforting is that there will be at least seven if not eight players who would not be in the run-on side if we make the playoffs.

christopher 335 days ago

Theirs an unfair rhetoric regarding the All Blacks especially when it comes to the All Blacks with Hamish Bidwell. South Africa last year pushed Ireland and France very very close and very hard away from home, especially France who were actually quite lucky with some referee decisions in that game ( I’m Scottish not a Bok so I’m not playing their ref agenda but they were harshly treated in that game) and the Boks on another day would probably have won that game. France win and everyone and their dog, probably including Bidwell, talk about this unstoppable French side. The All Blacks 7 months or so later play well and beat pretty much the same Boks side even more comfortably, and Hamish Looks for ways to bring the team down. The All Blacks didn’t win by about 60 points so not good enough in his eyes, He does give some praise in parts of his article, but really must hate Foster and NZR as he can’t help write some unfair crap at times. Foster, Schmidt and Ryan have not and will not say once they are favourites for the World Cup, fans do that and they can say what they want. Those three will be well aware that France at home are still a huge huge threat etc, but he’s got to be fair enough and level headed enough as a journalist to realise that France and Ireland yes are excellent sides, but both beat a shell of a All Blacks side, disorganised and no confidence, this One coached by Ryan and Schmidt is hitting its straps, and I believe are going to ask big time questions of the NH boys,the All Blacks will now be saying let’s see how good they really are.

Forward pass 335 days ago

I dont mind negative articles if they are well written as to why its negative but Hamish refuses to write anything good about NZ ever. I dont get the anti NZ articles from him all the time.

Forward pass 335 days ago

Hamish whats the point of winning if you cant enjoy it? Your anti NZ articles jusr never stop.

PaPaRumple 335 days ago

What makes this guy qualified to write rugby articles. What a rubbish waste of time article.

Tom 335 days ago

The yardstick (or goalposts) are always moving when it comes to the All Blacks. Should we have been more impressed if the ABs had been down 15-17 after 60mins and won the last 20min 20-3?? Oh no the ABs should just beat everyone by 30+

It's rare to perform at peak for 80mins. Union is also designed in a way where mistakes are easily exploited, so the game encourages playing conservative with a lead. The ABs seemed to play within themselves whilst doing enough to kill the game. It was a really good performance which the team (and the fans) needed after the inconsistency of last year.

Bruiser 335 days ago

Right to no get carried away with the win but I think you are off the mark with Boks. Its proven experienced teams win World Cups , so rather than say some of them look past it, add up the ages of the 2015 AB RWC winning team and make a comparsion...that would be a better perspective. There was a lot of people saying Richie and DC were past it going into 2015.

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