All Blacks clinch thriller over Boks

 Will Jordan of the All Blacks is tackled by Siya Kolisi of the Springboks during the Rugby...
Will Jordan of the All Blacks is tackled by Siya Kolisi of the Springboks during the Rugby Championship match in Townsville, Australia. Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images

The 100th test between the All Blacks and Springboks, in their centenary year, produced a dramatic finish to save an occasion devoid of spectacular moments.

With three minutes remaining Jordie Barrett knocked over a clutch match-winning penalty from 43 metres out on the angle to steal a 19-17 victory for the All Blacks, clinch the Rugby Championship, and continue their nine-match unbeaten run this season.

Before Barrett's strike, secured by a breakdown penalty from Quinn Tupaea, the All Blacks were forced into an ugly dogfight.

Rarely a script plays out as expected but, in this case, that's exactly what transpired.

After successive losses to the Wallabies, the Springboks returned to their one-dimensional strengths that carried them to the 2019 World Cup crown and recent success against the British and Irish Lions.

Anti-rugby, anti-attack, call it what you will. The Boks had no interest whatsoever in playing with the ball. Their tactics sure were effective, though.

The result was a predictable clash of styles, and a rather grim spectacle not befitting the occasion. The Boks, though, were never going to win attempting to take on the All Blacks at their own game.

The Boks always wanted to reduce this match to a scrap; to fight in the trenches, slow the pace and use their brute strength, their defence, their set piece, to grind down the All Blacks.

For much of the match, it worked.

The world champions achieved their vision to largely dictate terms and reduce the All Blacks to a frustrated, disjointed, fumbling unit.

Without the rhythm that carried them to eight wins this season, the All Blacks did not embrace the same patience, accuracy or intent they displayed so often in 2021.

Despite knowing it was coming the All Blacks failed to deal with the constant aerial assault. The Boks were so committed to their tactics that halfback Faf de Klerk hoisted several box kicks near the All Blacks' 22.

The All Blacks have scored at will against Australia and Argentina but managed just one in this match, through Will Jordan in the third minute after Codie Taylor's bust. After that, time and again they pushed passes and split ball to be wasteful. Their 23 turnovers – many of those handling errors - speaks volumes of their lack of clinical execution.

Pedantic referee Luke Pearce played into the Boks' hands throughout – his constant whistle (26 penalties) slowing the pace and robbing the match of any genuine flow and tempo.

Despite dominating possession and territory the All Blacks were rattled by the ferocity of the Boks' offensive defence.

The urgency and intent that set the platform for the All Blacks at the breakdown in recent weeks dropped several notches, too.

The Boks came hard and fast to every ruck, with captain Siya Kolisi immense. Elsewhere the Boks asserted their noted defensive line speed pressure. Those two aspects combined to regularly disrupt the All Blacks ball, which had TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett on the backfoot.

Brad Weber's impact in the final 10 minutes in terms of lifting the speed was notable.

Ethan Blackadder, who stepped into openside after Luke Jacobson's tummy bug, produced a huge shift but the All Blacks pack sure have plenty of work to do after being outmuscled at times.

There was also a stubbornness to the All Blacks' decision-making.

Straight after the break, while holding a one-man advantage, the All Blacks turned down two more shots at goal. On both occasions the Boks repelled rolling mauls, and Nepo Laulala dropped the ball two metres from the line to squander another chance.

In the end turning down those shots did not prove costly but, given the tight, tense contest, it could easily have handed the Boks victory.

George Bridge, selected on the left wing for his aerial skills, endured a horror game.

Early on, with all the time in the world to swallow one of de Klerk's numerous box kicks, Bridge botched it terribly to gift Sbu Nkosi an immediate response to Jordan's opening try which turned the tide.

Brodie Retallick conceded two technical infringements, Handre Pollard knocked over two penalties, and suddenly the Boks were in control.

The Boks offered nothing on attack – their tactics could best be described as anti-rugby. But de Klerk's boxing kicking troubled the All Blacks back three, with Bridge failing to defuse several high balls.

Jordie Barrett was the exception – a class act in defusing near every raid.

Defensively the Boks had the measure of the All Blacks' attempted driving mauls and their constant pressure forced repeat errors in contact.

When their set piece held firm, the All Blacks looked their best. Just before the break the All Blacks created an overlap from their scrum – only for Nkosi to cynically knock the ball down to concede a yellow card and prevent a near certain try.

After turning down two previous shots in the first half the All Blacks opted to take the points on this occasion and nab a 13-11 halftime lead.

That lead changed multiple times in the second half, with Pollard and Barrett trading shots.

In the end the All Blacks had the final say to secure the Rugby Championship title, but it was anything but pretty.

All Blacks 19 (Will Jordan try; Jordie Barrett con, 4 pens), Springboks 17 (Sbu Nkosi try; Handre Pollard 4 pens). HT: 13-11

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