Bok Attack   30 Aug 2005

by Ellie van Baaren

ALL BLACKS 31 SPRINGBOKS 27

Whew! What a game. It was basically the Tri- Nations final, a must-win for both sides. And the fact that, if they won, the South Africans would take the world No 1 spot from their Kiwi opponents.

From the moment the All Blacks launched into a fierce, passionate rendition of their new haka, Kapa O Pango, the intensity around this game was palpable, even from half way around the world.

Winger Joe Rokocoko proved once again he’s back on top by scoring two tries, the first of which came in only the first few minutes of the game after Aaron Mauger charged down an Andre Pretorius kick.

All eyes were on Leon MacDonald from the beginning as he started his first test at first five-eighth to replace the injured Daniel Carter. Standing in for New Zealand rugby’s golden boy was never going to be easy, and one of the biggest concerns was how he would kick, for position and goal.

We needn’t have worried (or held our breath as he set up each kick). Despite his no frills run up – sometimes as few as two steps – MacDonald slotted three from four attempts before being subbed 11 minutes before full time.

Bryan Habana again caused havoc – and much more breath-holding – when he got near the ball, scoring the visitors’ first try the way he does it best, with speed. Hearts were in mouths when he intercepted two passes close to the All Black line. Luckily for us, neither were clean takes.

With minutes to go before halftime, the All Blacks held a 21-10 lead, but just as fans were starting to relax, a quick-thinking Ricky Januarie charged down Piri Weepu’s clearing kick and kept his composure to take it over the line. The whistle went and in the second half, things were a lot harder.

The All Blacks’ coaching team had toned down the open play that the team had unsuccessfully stuck to in South Africa, in favour of a more structured gameplan. The scrum was strong, the lineouts were by and large controlled and tactical kicking was solid.

The All Black coaches had introduced two measures to counter the Springboks’ rushing defence that had given them so much trouble in the first test. The first was by running close to the maul, the second was turning the South African players around with kicks behind the defenders.

It seemed to be working a majority of the time, but after such a blinder of a first half, the All Blacks loosened their gameplan up a little and paid the price. It was Januarie who again put a kink in the plan with an intercept try 15 minutes before full time.

For the next 10 or so minutes every Kiwi fan was inching closer and closer to the TV screen (or field), ready to cover their eyes if need be, as the All Blacks searched for the winning try.

It finally came via hooker Keven Mealamu who burrowed over to give the home team victory.

But it’s not over yet. The All Blacks still need to beat the Wallabies on Saturday, or score at least four tries and draw to leap frog over South Africa. The Aussies are struggling with injuries to several of their key players but as always, complacency will get us nowhere. And as any team knows, the threat of such a high-profile whitewash would motivate any team.

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