16 Sep 2018

Rivalry revived: 'Now that is a test match'

9:56 am on 16 September 2018

Opinion - To think, when the media made our way into the bowels of Westpac Stadium last night, the attention was more on the latest crushing Silver Ferns loss than the impending test match. It was supposed to be another business as usual performance, a comfortable win, a piece of cake.

Springboks' RG Snyman celebrates at the final whistle.

Springboks' RG Snyman celebrates at the final whistle. Photo: Photosport

We'd all predicted it in our pieces leading up - even the two South African journalists who made the trek over. But by the end we were shaking their hands and patting them on the back as if they had been on the field themselves.

Seventy points, 11 tries, crunching tackles and a completely out of the blue result. Now that is a test match.

If you don't respect the way the Springboks went about their stunning 36-34 win over the All Blacks, then you're not a real rugby fan. Yes, it's fine to be upset at some of the decision-making, whether it was Jordie Barrett's disastrous quick lineout or leaving his brother Beauden as the goal kicker right up until the end. Or the shunning of a drop goal in favour of an ultimately fruitless search for a winning try.

The Springboks did get by with more than a little luck, admittedly. But, afterwards, they were the first ones to admit it.

However, what should be admired is the absolutely staggering number of tackles the Springboks made, especially in the final stages of the game. On top of that the composure, resolve and ferocity of a side that had been completely written off before kick-off.

Captain Siya Kolisi and coach Rassie Erasmus cut humble figures in the post-match press conference, heaping praise on the collective effort of the team and reminding everyone of how fortunate some of the calls and bounces of the ball were. The look on Erasmus's face showed more than a little bit of disbelief, but his words hammered home just how important a win over the All Blacks was.

This was all the proof anyone needs that the All Blacks against the Springboks will always be rugby's greatest rivalry. Not just for the historical context but for the matches themselves - the last two being serious contenders for match of the decade.

Cape Town last year saw the All Blacks pip the Springboks, and now the roles have been reversed. It's all set up for a showdown in Pretoria in three weeks' time. Loftus Versfeld stadium, the home of the greatest day in All Blacks' history when the 1996 side won a series in South Africa for the first time, will be crammed with fanatical Springbok supporters.

This is the game All Blacks' fans should be intimidated by because the Springboks are the team that has, historically, traded the most brutal blows as the most worthy opponent.

Forget England at Twickenham in November. That fixture lost its shine when everyone figured out what Eddie Jones' game plan was. It worked so well for 18 months and then sent them back to being the same road kill they were.

Forget Ireland a week later. For all their upstart talk and swagger lately, the history between them and the All Blacks is pitifully one-sided. There will need to be at least a few more losses to them in order for that to even be considered a rivalry at all. Yes, they're good, but it may be years before we see them against the All Blacks again considering their propensity to bomb out in World Cups.

Respect is earned, not given. The Springboks earned plenty in Cape Town last year, but didn't get much else. This time around, they grabbed everything with both hands and tore it off its foundations.

If this is the sort of rugby they're capable of, long may it continue.

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