Right from the spine-tingling rendition of ‘Kapa O Pango’, the All Blacks opening clash against old rivals Springboks lived up to expectations as an epic blockbuster on just the second day of the Rugby World Cup.
Billed as possibly the greatest pool game in history, the Springboks opened the match right on top with physical defence and a wave of possession. All Blacks’ flyhalf Richie Mo’unga said the side was under a lot of pressure.
“They put us under a lot of pressure. A lot of mistakes and a lot of the pressure came from ourselves. We were frantic and rushing things, so we needed to slow down. We needed to kick the ball back to them to put them under pressure,” he said.
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The All Blacks were able to get into the game on the back of winning the aerial contest, with two tries coming off the back of box kicks. The first one to George Bridge was set-up by a Mo’unga cross-kick after re-gathering the first kick.
“It was spur of the moment and just trusting my ability to see something and do it. I play a lot with Sevu Reece – me and him have a good relationship, so I was able to understand that he was free. He is really good at catching and making things happen,” Mo’unga explained.
Streaking down the edge, Reece found Smith back inside before a rampaging Savea set play up deep inside Springbok territory. On the next phase, winger George Bridge scored the first try of the match.
“When the ball got out to Beaudy (Barrett), I saw he had a prop in front of him. So, I told him to have a go at him (the South African prop), and then from there, he just managed to get the offload and I was in support,” said winger George Bridge.
All Blacks’ halfback Aaron Smith was just happy to get his kicking game right.
“It was great to get the box kick right. And then a spilt ball – that’s just rugby,” Smith said.
“For the first 20 minutes we were unable to go to any pressure and it was our first chance to execute something off the turnover ball. As New Zealanders we love playing off the turnover.”
“He’s an outstanding player and on his day he’s the best player in the world and we saw that tonight. I could hear him and I was trying to give him the ball every time he wanted it. When Beauden Barrett wants the ball, you just give it to him and watch out.”
Richie Mo’unga also had high praise for Barrett, who thinks their partnership can continue to get better during the World Cup.
“Beauden was awesome for me. He supported me well and it’s good to have two decision-makers in the backline, and it’s something we can keep working on throughout the World Cup,” he said.
Springboks scrumhalf Faf de Klerk also pointed to the aerial game as a turning point in the contest and a penalty count that become insurmountable.
“They were technically very good, they were very good in the air. I think that’s where we lost the game,” De Klerk said.
“I believed that we could win it, (to) come back from behind, so the belief was there to win. But 11 penalties against two, it’s always going to be difficult coming back from that.
Replacement flanker Francois Louw also pin-pointed the high balls as a problem area for the side, but explained it was a collective effort that requires improvement.
“We could have done better in blocking their players when it came to those high balls.
“High balls are challenging, so we can’t blame it on any one player, it’s a collective effort. Unfortunately, they (New Zealand) capitalised on those errors.”
Springboks flyhalf Handre Pollard said that the side has to get better at the ‘small details’ and that everything has to be in place against the best team in the world.
“It’s not panic stations, it’s very calm. We’ve still got the confidence in the group and coaching staff. It’s those small details we’ve got to be better at.
“They (New Zealand) are for me arguably the best team in the world, and if you don’t have everything set in place every single time that’s what they are going to do to you.”
One man who gave the All Blacks fits all night was the electric Cheslin Kolbe, who finished with a game-high 124-running metres and double-digits in the defenders’ beaten column.
“My first game in a World Cup is a memory I’ll take with me throughout my career. It’s not the result that we wanted. But it’s still a long competition,” he said.
Kolbe made three line breaks and almost pulled off spectacular long-range solo try only to be brought down by Richie Mo’unga. Kolbe says he should have put the pedal to the floor a bit earlier.
“He showed a good pair of wheels. I think I could have gone a bit quicker to his outside and backed myself. I’ll just make sure that whenever there’s another opportunity like that I’ll capitalise.”
“They played a very good kicking game. The World Cup is not going to be about attacking. There were a few balls we just couldn’t handle in the air.
The Springboks aren’t looking too far ahead, with a likely quarterfinal looming against Ireland if there are no surprise results in that pool.
“We’ll just keep our heads up high and keep on working for the next game and make sure that we don’t drop our heads.”
All Blacks’ press conference following win over South Africa:
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