All Blacks fire few shots in loss to Boks

Damian Willemse makes a break for South Africa against New Zealand. Photo: Reuters
Damian Willemse makes a break for South Africa against New Zealand. Photo: Reuters
In their defining hour, their day of reckoning, the All Blacks barely fired a shot, going down to South Africa 26-10.

Mbombela Stadium exploded at the seams with 45,000 screaming South Africans forming a sea of green; a piercing atmosphere. The locals sure had plenty to shout about, too.

In that white hot cauldron, among swarming Springboks, on their first venture to South Africa in four years, the All Blacks failed to cope with the relentless aerial and physical assault on their senses.

It wasn't that the All Blacks were intimidated. It wasn't that they were caught off guard, either. The Boks stuck to their unimaginative kick-heavy, forward-dominated blueprint and executed it to perfection. The All Blacks knew it was coming – and still had few answers.

A fifth defeat from their last sixth tests leaves All Blacks head coach Ian Foster one match – at Ellis Park next week - to save his job.

If it wasn't clear before it is glaringly obvious now – this is an All Blacks group bereft of confidence and direction. In these circumstances a sudden revival at the mecca of South African rugby next week seems but a fanciful dream.

The body of evidence in the wake of last month's home series defeat to Ireland weighs heavily on Foster's embattled tenure that appears increasingly untenable.

An ugly incident in the 75th minute when Springboks wing Kurt-Lee Arendse wiped out Beauden Barrett in the air – the All Blacks playmaker tumbling to the turf and landing on his head – marred the conclusion to this match. Arendse received a red card and should spend a lengthy period on the sideline for his careless challenge. Fortunately, Barrett was not seriously injured.

Chants of "Boka Boka" repeatedly rung out as the Springboks pressed forward through high balls and brute force to methodically grind the All Blacks down. The Boks didn't do anything special – and they didn't have to. Their territory and pressure-based game strangled the All Blacks' flat-lining attack that had Barrett willing someone to run off him all evening.

Shannon Frizell scored a late consolation try after a superb Caleb Clarke break but the final margin of defeat flattered Foster's men after they trailed 10-3 at half time. It also came close to matching South Africa's largest victory against the All Blacks at home – their 17-point win in 1928.

For the fourth test in succession, the All Blacks started on the backfoot with opposition scoring first. In the first half the All Blacks barely got out of their half. They held their own for patches after that and threw the odd counter punch but, by the final quarter, they disintegrated with the set piece malfunctioning and common mistakes proving costly.

Frustrations at the breakdown were again a major issue. These were encapsulated by the All Blacks' inability to deal with Malcolm Marx's immovable presence over the ball. Three times the Springboks hooker gained turnovers or penalties.

The All Blacks' scrum was another area of concern. While some decisions were debatable the scrum endured serious issues by conceding four infringements in the first half – three against tighthead prop Angus Ta'avao. The All Blacks got one back late in the half, but these penalties allowed the Boks to control the pace, kick to the corners and apply consistent pressure.

On attack the All Blacks continued their theme of looking lost and lacking fluency.

Will Jordan didn't touch the ball in the first half. Even when the All Blacks did create space passes often went to ground or the chance was wasted by basic errors.

Despite losing Faf de Klerk – he was knocked out 40 seconds in after colliding with Clarke's knee – the Boks stuck steadfastly to their plan to kick at almost every opportunity. This tactic paid off, with the Boks winning the aerial contests. Their opening try to Arendse came from Barrett spilling a high ball.

Defensively, the All Blacks can take pride. Their maul defence, thanks to new forwards coach Jason Ryan, was unrecognisable from the Irish series. Several times they were well organised to repel the Boks maul. Wider out the All Blacks scrambled well, too, with Beauden and Jordie Barrett bundling opponents into touch early.

Samisoni Taukei'aho was a rare bright spot for the All Blacks – the Chiefs hooker absorbing intense pressure to nail throws five metres out from his line and offer a direct presence with ball in hand. Ardie Savea, as he did against Ireland, gave his all too.

Otherwise, though, it was one way traffic.

Jordie Barrett left the field with an ankle injury after 52 minutes to create yet another headache for Foster.

Those continue to mount, as does the pressure to deliver a semblance of a response.

The wait for that goes on.

South Africa 26 (Kurt-Lee Arendse, Willie le Roux tries; Handre Pollard 2 cons, 3 pens, drop goal), All Blacks 10 (Shannon Frizell try, Richie Mo'unga con, Jordie Barrett pen). HT: 10-3

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