All Blacks teach Boks it's not over until the whistle blows
Rassie's men had the better of them, but the All Blacks proved the importance of playing the full 80 minutes
A lot can happen in 80 minutes and in the hour and 20 minutes of what was an exciting 97th instalment of the Springbok-All Black rivalry, the importance of playing until the final whistle was underscored.
The defeat can work in two ways: a bitter pill to swallow or a reminder that once composure, conditioning and experience are married to close out a game, the All Blacks are beatable.
If there’s an enduring quality about the All Blacks and one that was echoed by their captain Kieran Rea, it’s that not at any stage did they believe the game was lost. That’s some belief considering they were 17 points down at one stage.
Then again, the Springboks fought back from a bigger deficit to beat England at Ellis Park in June and also overturned a 12-point deficit when they won against the All Blacks in Wellington. Again, the value of the full 80-minute performance can’t be understated.
This is the lesson the Springboks have to take in ahead of their four-match end-of-year tour when they’ll face England, France, Scotland and Wales on consecutive weekends.
Springbok coach Johan “Rassie” Erasmus is speaking like a person whose plans are coming together at the right time, and his team is playing like a unit.
It must be considered that the Boks were in a similarly optimistic frame of mind after a one-point loss to the All Blacks at Newlands last year.
The context of that game was far removed from Saturday’s match as redemption after the Albany Annihilation was on the menu rather than believing the All Blacks were beatable.
There was an expectation that the Boks could beat the All Blacks after the Wellington Wonder and for 72 minutes, the Boks indeed looked like a team that could become the first team to record back-to-back wins against the world champions in nine years. Another uncoachable facet dealt the Boks a blow: self-belief.
That quality can only come through years of experience, knowing the ups and downs and trusting your processes regardless of the match situation.
The All Blacks never panicked and understood that all they needed was a small opening in which they could kick the door down.
They were on the back foot for the better part of the game yet when it counted they knew how to shift into higher gears.
Erasmus’s side had unwittingly tapped into this quality in Wellington when they were ruthless with point-scoring opportunities despite being on the receiving end of every statistic.
Much like football, it’s not about the amount of territory and possession that you have, it’s what you do with it that counts.
Erasmus has a few kinks to iron out, one of them being his use of substitutes, but his honesty was refreshing.
He admitted to putting winning ahead the welfare of players and that chicken came home to roost when New Zealand’s seasoned bench did what was required of them to salvage a positive result. Tactically, the Boks went toe-to-toe with the All Blacks and if there were points awarded for that facet, the Boks would have shaded Steve Hansen’s side.
However, the qualities the All Blacks displayed in the last eight minutes don’t come off a shop counter, they are earned.
While the overall 2018 Bok product will have to be judged after the November 24 Test against Wales in Cardiff, the Boks are in decent shape.
Not every box was ticked in the Rugby Championship but four consecutive Tests next month will provide some answers.