Last second stunner: ABs win thriller

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Section
National,
Publish Date
Sunday, 8 October 2017, 6:28AM
Ioane makes a break (Getty Images)
Ioane makes a break (Getty Images)

If this is to be the last All Blacks' test at Newlands, what a way to go out. As with most matches in South Africa, it had a bit of everything once again.

Ultimately, a harsh red card in the 76th minute to replacement Boks midfielder Damian de Allende sealed victory for the All Blacks. It was harsh because, while de Allende copped Lima Sopoaga late after an attempted dropped kick, it was in his follow through and clearly no malice was intended. Penalty, yes. Red card? No way.

At that point the All Blacks were ahead by five points. The Sopoaga penalty pushed them eight clear, leaving the Boks one short after a late Malcolm Marx try.

The de Allende red card was a disappointing blemish from referee Jerome Garces in a truly brilliant test, one that should reignite this traditional rivalry.

This was a seriously willing contest. Players were left strewn all over the Cape Town's historic rugby venue. The pace was frenetic; the collisions, particularly at the breakdown, brutal.

Rumours are rife that by the time the All Blacks return, rugby will shift to the waterfront stadium. Whatever happens, the All Blacks' 22nd match at Newlands will be remembered as one of the greats.

From their defence to the lineout, the Boks were a vastly improved beast to the one that was hammered 57-0 in their last match against the All Blacks in Albany. They threw everything at the All Blacks but, as we've seen so many times before, Steve Hansen's men found a way to push through.

Countless times in Africa the All Blacks have faced adversity. Add this one to the list. They lost the brilliant Nehe Milner-Skudder to a popped shoulder - a cruel blow for the Hurricanes wing who has just returned from a near two-year test absence due to injury.

Beauden Barrett, following a head knock, also did not return after the 33rd minute. Sopoaga and David Havili slotted in, but that left the All Blacks two men down for the second half.

Like two heavyweight boxers the All Blacks and Boks traded counter punches all second half, neither willing to succumb.

Rieko Ioane scores an 80 metre runaway; the Boks respond with replacement first five-eighth Handre Pollard setting up Jean-Luc du Preez, only for Damian McKenzie to hit right back. It was edge of your seat stuff, with no clear winner until the final bell.

Marx, fully deserving, scored the final try. The Boks hooker was the standout player; an immovable force at the breakdown, winning four turnovers at crucial times. He was everywhere, this time nailing his lineout duties, in easily the best test of his young career.

Steven Kitshoff made a huge impact in his first starting test at loose head prop, and Boks captain Eben Etzebeth led from the front throughout.

The attitude of both teams was summed up by a remarkable period of play which stretched nine minutes into overtime in the first half. Both teams kept playing, kept pushing for points.

The All Blacks were, as usual, lethal on the counter attack. Turnovers from Sam Whitelock and Damian McKenzie, and they were gone in a flash. The Boks kicked regularly and the All Blacks were only too happy to oblige by running it back with success. McKenzie made some telling breaks, and Milner-Skudder was his typically brilliant self prior to departing.

The All Blacks had numerous chances but lacked the clinical finishing in the first spell, blowing a number of try scoring opportunities. Ioane dropped the ball over the line; passes didn't stick and on other occasions they were caught out not being quick enough to the breakdown.

To counter fatigue the All Blacks, who made 52 more tackles than the Boks, went to the bench early, replacing their entire front row straight after half time and rolling on the rest of the bench with 15 minutes remaining.

The impact and from the bench will be lauded so, too, the character of those who gutsed out 80 minutes. Liam Squire was a beast throughout.

But this was simply another drama-filled epic in Africa.

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