WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Jul 27 – Coach Rassie Erasmus said the Springboks were “lucky in a big way” after a last-gasp try by scrum-half Herschel Jantjies snatched a thrilling 16-16 draw with world title-holders New Zealand in the Rugby Championship.
The dress-rehearsal for their highly anticipated World Cup opener didn’t disappoint as South Africa were on top in the first half but fell away in the second until Jantjies’ crucial score at the death.
“For the first 35 minutes we played really well. In the second half I think they totally dominated except the last minute,” Erasmus said.
“So, fairly lucky in a big way.”
Although the All Blacks were outplayed for most of the first half in Wellington they still managed to turn with a 7-6 lead, scoring their only try of the game just before the break.
But while they took control in the second half they were restricted to penalties as they built a 16-9 lead.
Then, in a reversal of the first half, the game ended with the Springboks storming back.
Jantjies grabbed a bouncing ball to score his try in the final minute, with Handre Pollard kicking the conversion under pressure to leave the scores level.
As the Springboks celebrated, the All Blacks were distraught with captain Kieran Read saying it felt like a loss.
“I think so. If you saw the reactions from the two sides (a loss) is what it feels like,” Read said.
“When you come back to draw it feels a lot better. It’s one of those things. The bounce of the ball in the 80th minute and you draw a Test match. We don’t go out to draw and lose so our shed’s a bit down.”
– ‘Not going to panic’ –
The match may also have come at a high price for the All Blacks, just two months out from the World Cup, with star lock Brodie Retallick taken to hospital with a dislocated shoulder.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said he was awaiting test results to learn if Retallick had suffered a break as well. However, Hansen put a positive spin on the game.
“The last couple of seconds was pretty tough to watch but we’ve done that to plenty of sides ourselves so sometimes you’ve got to take your own medicine,” Hansen said.
“But there were enough signs there to say that if we keep working away, get our timing better, get our execution better then we’re going to hurt some teams. So we’re not going to panic.
“We had to find some things out, we’ve found them out which is great and we’re reasonably happy, not so much with the performance but we are happy with what we’re seeing and where we know we can go.”
The Springboks had their own injury problems with Faf de Klerk, whose clever kicking game placed the All Blacks under pressure throughout the first half, failing a head injury assessment in the third quarter which brought Jantjies off the bench.
Just a week after his two-try debut against Australia, Jantjies again played a significant role in the outcome of the game.
The Springboks were on top for most of the first half apart from one brief moment when the All Blacks mounted a 60-metre attack from rare turnover ball, and the end result was a try to Jack Goodhue converted by Beauden Barrett.
New Zealand carried that form into the second half but like the Springboks in the first 40 minutes they were forced to rely on penalties as they built a 16-9 lead.
As full time neared and the partisan New Zealand crowd prepared to celebrate, the game turned on its head in the final play when Jantjies won the race for the ball over the line.
In the last four Tests between the All Blacks and South Africa the margin has never been more than two points with the All Blacks winning two, South Africa one and now a draw.