McCaw breaks Bok hearts
Brenden Nel
July 25, 2015

All Black captain Richie McCaw scored a crucial try three minutes from the end to give his side a tough 27-20 win over the Springboks in their crucial Castle Lager Rugby Championship match at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.

McCaw called a beautiful lineout deception on the Bok line, catching the defence out as he ghosted into the front of the lineout and went over for the match-winning try at a crucial time after the Springboks dominated so much of this epic game.

Like so many before it, the Johannesburg game lived up to all its expectations as the premier game in rugby, and while the young Springbok side put together a dominant performance for most of the game, in the end it was the All Blacks bench that made a massive difference, as well as a highly controversial decision to remove competitive scrums from the equation.

The Boks will look back at a game of missed chances as they butchered at least three try-scoring opportunities, and could never pull away from the World Champions despite doing so much good work on the field.

With less than 20 minutes to go, and a man up through a yellow card for a professional foul to Sam Whitelock and a dominant scrum, referee Jerome Garces took the advantage away from the Springboks with a bizarre call for uncontested scrums at a crucial time.

The Boks had both their tightheads injured, with Jannie du Plessis taken off at halftime with a knock to his knee and Vincent Koch off for blood, but Garces made the call that replacement Trevor Nyakane couldn’t scrum as he was listed as a loosehead and not a tighthead.

Nayakane has been a tighthead replacement before for the Boks and spent a large portion of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament at No 3, but uncontested scrums were called even though there were four props on the field.

It dealt a blow to the Bok dominance at a crucial time where they had just received a penalty at the scrum and were a man up in the set-piece.

And for the All Blacks it had the opposite effect, it buoyed them and lifted them as their substitutes came on, as they came storming back to dominate the last 20 minutes as their bench took control of the game.

In the end the same problems came to the fore for the Boks as in Brisbane. A bench that was supposed to lift the side made little impact. The replacements made poor decisions on the field and turned over ball in crucial positions in their half, as the All Blacks simply then upped the pressure, and scored when it mattered.

While the young Bok team had played with such passion and pride, and put their bodies on the line, the All Blacks showed why their settled squad is ranked No 1 in world rugby and finished much stronger than the Boks in a game played at a furious pace.

Despite the disappointment, the game also underlined coach Heyneke Meyer’s concern that the Boks aren’t fit enough for the World Cup and this is likely to be a key focus in the next two months leading up to the tournament.

The Boks will also count their missed chances – they had the All Blacks under pressure and forced them to make more mistakes than the world champions are ever used to. They played a positive brand of rugby but will know this was one they should have won.

Considering three clear chances – Lood de Jager planting the ball just short (at least debatable on the television angles), Vincent Koch’s knock on the line and Willie le Roux’s botched last pass with Cornal Hendricks on his outside, the Boks ultimately paid for not finishing off their chances against the world’s best side.

Still there was enough promise to know that with the experience coming back into the side, the Boks will be a tougher animal at the Rugby World Cup, and the lessons of Ellis Park will be well learnt by the time they open their campaign in Brighton.


The midfield duo of Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende continues to grow, the injuries didn’t disrupt them that much and Lood de Jager underlined his promise as a future Springbok great as well.

However, the impact of the bench, injuries and the ability to close out a game will be the moments haunting the Boks after this loss. But there are so many positives from the game that it will make these easier to work with.

The fact the All Blacks missed no less than 29 tackles – a telling stat in the game – shows just how good the Bok attack is when it works. With more carries and passes, and less tackles made and penalties conceded, all the stats favoured the home side, who were exceptional but just not good enough on the day.

It was the home team who dominated the first half, scoring the opening try thanks to a massive turnover from Bismarck du Plessis on Kieran Read, with the ball heading wide for Jesse Kriel to send a beauty of an inside pass to Willie le Roux for the opening score.

But despite the dominance, both in possession and territory, the Boks were shocked late in the first half as Cornal Hendricks was steamrollered off the ball, and the turnover saw Lima Sopoaga scythe the midfield to put Ben Smith away. With everything in their favour, a costly moment saw a 10-3 halftime lead become 10-all.

The Boks took the game forward early in the second half, with Handre Pollard putting the perfect pass in Kriel’s hands to send the youngster through the Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith defensive wall and over for a beautiful try.

But just as they had the lead again, a wonderful pass on the other side of the field to an angled run by Dane Coles saw the scores level again, as the All Blacks scored when it counted.

De Jager came close, millimetres close and some will argue the ball did touch the line, but the TMO ruled otherwise and the Boks were denied a seven-pointer they had worked hard for.

Pollard edged the Boks ahead with a penalty shortly afterwards before the All Blacks once again were penalised on their line, and this time Garces had little sympathy for Sam Whitelock and dispatched him with a yellow.

Then the uncontested scrums came, and the shift in momentum in the game. And as the bench was cleared, the All Blacks grew in confidence.

McCaw’s try showed just how well they can finish off a game when they want to, with the Bok bench making poor tactical decisions and upping the pressure on themselves.

And with the All Blacks with a sniff of blood, the Boks lost the game late through their own doing.

Sopoaga pumped an iffy penalty late in the game to secure the win, one which could have gone the other way.

The Boks played a superb game of rugby, but will know they let this one get away.

But given their injury list and the task facing them, they can hold their heads high.


SOUTH AFRICA – tries: Willie le Roux, Jesse Kriel. Conversions: Handre Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (2).

NEW ZEALAND – tries: Ben Smith, Dane Coles, Richie McCaw. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (3). Penalties: Sopoaga (2)

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