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The simple half-time chat that paved the way for a potential Grand Slam

By Tom Vinicombe
Ardie Savea with the Freedom Cup. (Photo by Darren England/Photosport)

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While a Grand Slam is a lauded feat in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s something rarely discussed in the south.

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Having defeated the Springboks by just two points in Saturday’s 100th encounter between the two sides, the All Blacks now have the chance of going through the 2010 Rugby Championship without dropping a game.

It’s something the All Blacks last achieved in 2017 – and something no other Rugby Championship nation has managed in a home-and-away round-robin format.

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Has Northern Hemisphere rugby impacted how the Springboks play?
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Has Northern Hemisphere rugby impacted how the Springboks play?

While the 19-17 win on Saturday night secured the Rugby Championship trophy for the year, an undefeated tournament would be the icing on the cake for second-year coach Ian Foster.

“You go up to the Six Nations and if they win five, they celebrate it as a Grand Slam,” said Foster after the historic victory. “We’ve got that chance now in the Rugby Championship to have a Grand Slam opportunity next week and for this group to actually put themselves in that position, I think is a massive credit to [captain] Ardie [Savea] and the men for the way they’re gelling together and working hard. We know to achieve what we want to achieve next week and get that Grand Slam, we’re going to have to lift up a couple of cogs from tonight.”

In an overall scrappy match, the All Blacks entered the half-time break with a 13-11 lead after the two rival nations traded tries and penalties in the first 40 minutes.

The All Blacks certainly hadn’t been at their best over the opening stanza but there were no angry blasts from the coaches in the changing room – the players knew exactly what they needed to do to get the upper hand in the intense arm-wrestle of a test match.

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“It was a simple chat at halftime,” Savea revealed following the game. “It was up to us to change what we needed to change. We were making mistakes, giving silly penalties away. When you give those penalties away to a team like South Africa, they’re just going to punish you.

“We went out there and still gave penalties away but the boys dug in deep. [The chat was] nice and clear, it was all up to us to fix [the errors] ourselves.”

It took a late-game long-range penalty goal from fullback Jordie Barrett to secure the win for the All Blacks but Savea, in his first season as captain of the national side, said his nerve held well – in part, thanks to the presence of other experience leaders on the pitch.

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“It’s lucky that I’m a calm person,” Savea said. “I’ve got to give credit to a lot of my leaders beside me who I leaned on today. It was a collective effort but great learnings. Those kinds of games [are] something I’ll learn from and grow from as a person and as a leader.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Savea, however, was matching up physically to the sizeable South African forwards.

With the Springboks not taking part in international rugby last season, it’s been over two years since the All Blacks faced the might of the Boks in a test match, and Saturday’s fixture did not disappoint, at least from a physicality point of view.

“[It was] physical,” said Savea after the game. “We knew it was coming and they put us under a lot of pressure, their style of play.

“I’m just relieved and proud at the boys [for] sticking in and their attitude to just getting through it when we were under pressure.

“It doesn’t get easier. Huge respect for the Springbok brothers. It’s always a massive clash and my body’s feeling it now. Hopefully I’ll jump in the spa and the pool and recover well.”

For Foster, the game loomed as the coach’s biggest challenge of his tenure to date and the man in charge was understandably pleased with how his charges performed on the night – especially captain Savea.

“I’m really proud of the men,” Foster said. “The man next to me [Savea], I think, has been a superb leader on this tour. This group’s got tight. We’ve got a mission we want to achieve and tonight was a massive part of it.”

Foster also delivered a tribute following the passing of former All Blacks legend Waka Nathan.

“There’s a whole lot of things that are special about tonight – the hundredth [game] and the Rugby Championship [title], the Freedom Cup and also our chance as a team to honour the passing of a great All Black who’s been massively iconically in our game, in terms of Waka Nathan. So just on behalf of the team, to his whanau we’ve got our love and aroha with you people; we know it’s a tough time but he’ll be remembered fondly for everything he’s done for our game.”

The All Blacks and Springboks will square off once more next weekend, with the Springboks potentially able to steal second place on the Rugby Championship table with an upset victory, and the All Blacks gunning for that coveted Grand Slam.

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The simple half-time chat that paved the way for a potential Grand Slam

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