News

All Blacks in Newlands

09:56:00, Sun 8 Oct 2017 Jim Kayes 171007South Africav All Blacks _440

We gathered in the humid gloom just down from reception, a small clutch of Kiwi visitors to Samoa keen to watch the All Blacks take on South Africa half a world away in Cape Town.

The security guards at the Saletoga Sands resort had turned the telly on and with mosquitos slipping in and out of the eyeline, we settled in to watch.

There is something unique about watching the All Blacks this way. Being away from home seems to accentuate parochialism and pride.

The extraordinarily long first half, with play ending almost 10 minutes after the halftime hooter, meant the sun was slipping its moorings and the breakfast staff had arrived before the second half kicked off.

Pots and pans banged in the nearby kitchen almost in rhythm with the collisions in the test match, a throw back, at last, to a time when little stood between two of rugby's super powers.

There was a concern those days were gone. A worry that the 57-0 drubbing dished out in Albany would be repeated at Newlands. South Africa hadn't beaten the All Blacks for three years and that 27-25 win in Johannesburg in 2014 stood alone in their last 11 encounters. In the last three tests they'd lost be an average of 52-9.

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee said before the test at Newlands they had no chance of beating the All Blacks. "We're playing a very good All Blacks side," Coetzee said, "and we'd be living in a fool's paradise if we thought we could topple them."  So to lose to the All Blacks by a point, 25-24, after being thrashed in the previous test is a victory for South African spirits, even if a real win continues to elude them.

It is a triumph of sorts for world rugby too. South Africa have slipped to fourth in the world rankings but remain a key player in the small group of international rugby's top teams. Just as it is with the Wallabies, world rugby cannot afford to have the Springboks fall out of the elite, to slide perhaps irreversibly into the pack.

That's not something the All Blacks can worry about - their job is to continue to be the benchmark against which other teams judge themselves.  But coach Steve Hansen will be pleased to see a New Zealand - South Africa match is a true test again. He needs his team to be regularly challenged. He needs his players to be constantly tested. He cannot afford to have them canter away from the chasing pack between World Cups. That has happened in the past and, as any All Blacks fan knows, it hasn't led to World Cup success. With Japan now firmly on the horizon the All Blacks needed to be pushed - to be tested.

The new blood Hansen is slowly bringing through for the 2019 World Cup continues to impress with Liam Squire and Damian McKenzie again showing their test match credentials. Some of the older guys stood out too, notably lock Sam Whitelock. He might be shaded at times by Brodie Retallick, but he certainly doesn't live in his shadow.  The head knock to Beauden Barrett is a worry, while another shoulder injury to Nehe Milner-Skudder is cruel. If any player deserves a run of good luck it's him. His time will come again.

That shouldn't be the case though for referee Jerome Garces. He was again confusing, especially with his efforts to officiate the scrum, and he was unduly harsh in sending replacement Springbok midfielder Damian de Allende off. He was reckless and careless in his charge on Lima Sopoaga and it definitely deserved a penalty and probably a yellow card. But a red? Nope.

Then again, this is the same referee who, as an assistant referee, interjected in the final few minutes of the third British and Irish Lions test match, convincing referee Romain Poite to reverse his decision to award the All Blacks what could have been a match winning penalty. Referees have a tough job. But with the help of television replays they get the chance to get the big calls right. Garces needs to be right more often.