26 Oct 2015

Rugby World Cup: Nailing the crucial moments

12:13 pm on 26 October 2015
Richie McCaw snatches the lineout ball from South African lock Eben Etzebeth.

Richie McCaw snatches the lineout ball from South African lock Eben Etzebeth. Photo: AFP

Crucial moments? Take your pick.

It's an adage as old and clichéd as someone yelling out 'he's been doing it all day, ref!' - scoring first after half-time is crucial. It's also a proven fact that drop goals all of a sudden become way more fashionable in World Cup knockout games. So doing both when you're a man down is a clear indication that this All Black team has the mental capability to handle even the most dire of circumstances.

That's the sort of thing that wins World Cups.

Just before half-time, Jerome Kaino found himself in the naughty chair for 10 for what even the most one-eyed South African would describe as a harsh call at the very least. Making his way back onside, Kaino accidentally got himself in the way of the ball as it squirted out the back of a Springbok ruck. Penalty, sure - but a yellow?

It resulted in three points for the Boks, but that was rubbed out six minutes into the second half by Dan Carter's first droppie in a Test match since 2012 (for the record, that was against Ireland and it won the game). Once Kaino made his way back onto the field, the All Blacks kept the hammer down and scored the decisive try through Beauden Barrett.

Even though he got binned, Kaino's presence on the park was important as he scored the All Blacks' opening try. Again it showed how important the core skill sets of the All Blacks are, forwards and backs linking seamlessly before Richie McCaw chucked a harbour bridge pass to his blindside. Kaino had to reach to get it, but his hands didn't let him down and he sailed past giant Bok lock Lood de Jager to finish beautifully in the corner.

If the try was crucial, then what happened next ended up being the margin of victory between the two teams. Carter's first attempt at the sideline conversion dragged to the right hand side of the posts, but Bryan Habana jumped the gun on his charge down. Cue a retaken shot and Carter sent it straight down the barrel for the crucial two points. Seriously, when was the last time that rule has ever been enforced?

It capped off a pretty miserable day for Habana. Springboks fans would've been thinking that Sunday would be the day he broke the all-time World Cup try-scoring record. Instead they got a largely anonymous performance until he inexplicably got himself sent to the bin for the most foolish of professional fouls. To compound matters, it turns out it had absolutely no tangible benefit at all given that Barrett scored off that passage of play anyway.

The All Blacks would've got one simple message at half-time: the penalty count was high, but keep the ball in the Springbok's half. Handre Pollard's goal kicking was sublime, but for all the decisions that went the way of the Boks, they just couldn't get enough to fashion a large enough lead. However, the All Blacks better sort out their discipline for next weekend.

As for the Boks, they've got the always unwanted third place playoff to look forward to. Despite making it this far in the tournament, this will have to go down as one of the most disastrous seasons in South African rugby history. They've struggled to five wins and five losses in 2015 - with two of those losses being to Argentina at home and Japan. Coach Heyneke Meyer truly seems like world rugby's nicest guy, but imagine if he was charge of an All Black team with that record?

The public perception of Meyer (in New Zealand anyway) is very interesting given how much his predecessor Pieter de Villers was widely ridiculed and had his coaching pedigree called into question constantly. However, de Villiers oversaw five Springbok victories over the All Blacks and two on NZ soil (Meyer's Springboks have only beaten the All Blacks once, in Johannesburg), as well as a series victory over a very strong British and Irish Lions side.

But hey, Meyer is mates with Steve Hansen and they go for beers. Maybe that's why he gets a free pass from the media.

The Benchwarmer's Comment logo

Jamie 'The Benchwarmer' Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the sole highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game to anyone who'll care to listen.

The Benchwarmer's Comment will run throughout the World Cup on radionz.co.nz.

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