9 Oct 2017

Bok and Black: A rivalry revived at Newlands

12:08 pm on 9 October 2017

Opinion - If that was the last time the All Blacks play the Springboks at Newlands, they've brought the curtain down on the venue in the best possible way.

Yesterday morning's epic 25-24 win by the world champions arrested the sharp decline in health of rugby's greatest rivalry, giving it a virtual defibrillation in the iconic Cape Town venue.

I wrote before the match about the potential for an ambush, and for a lot of the game it looked as though that was just what was going to happen as the Springboks hammered away at the All Black line.

After Jean-Luc du Preez's go ahead score with 15 minutes to go, it all seemed completely rational to think the Boks were about to pull off one of the greatest turnarounds in form in the history of the game.

Just like the Wallabies earlier in the competition, they had managed to go from a 50+ hiding to being on the brink of decapitating the kings of world rugby.

This wasn't like the other ambushes, and certainly not like the Dunedin test that saw the All Blacks scrape home despite playing pretty poorly for most of the game.

Siya Kolisi of South Africa and Sonny Bill Williams of New Zealand after the Rugby Championship at Newlands Stadium.

Siya Kolisi of South Africa and Sonny Bill Williams of New Zealand after the Rugby Championship at Newlands Stadium. Photo: Photosport NZ

The main difference was that the All Blacks weren't playing badly at all - if anything it was one of their more composed and measured performances of the season. Yet the Boks still were able to match them punch for punch, with Ross Cronje's try a testament to the desire of a team desperate to regain the prestige that was so ruthlessly destroyed in Albany.

Yes, the All Blacks had a fair share of luck.

Ryan Crotty's first-half try really could've been disallowed without any complaint, and Rieko Ioane's intercept wasn't exactly planned. It's unlikely, though, that anyone is going to accuse them of stealing this one and not deserving the win.

There'll be a lot of talk about the late red card by Damian de Allende, but the fact that the reserve back was sent from the field is a moot point.

It was a lazy challenge that deserved a penalty, and the colour of the card made no difference given the amount of time remaining. Even so, the mandate for contact to the head is specifically harsh this season - so while plenty of people will disagree with the severity of the call, it was the right one by referee Jerome Garces.

And that's just a few of the storylines.

There's also the calm and composed performance of Lima Sopoaga, who nailed a crucial sideline conversion of Damian McKenzie's stunning try. There's the work rate of Eben Etzebeth, the man so humbled by the 57-0 capitulation he could barely face the post match press conference. On top of that, the vibrant and diverse crowd that had support for both sides in abundance.

The main one is the respect regained by South African rugby, savaged by their own fans and pitied by the rest of the world. This was a victory without actually winning, for them, and a reminder that they can still foot it with their old rivals.

Long may it continue.

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