In one of the most physical and brutal matches in RWC2015 so far, the All Blacks narrowly escaped a revenge-seeking South African side to make the World Cup Final for the second consecutive time.
No one was expecting anything less as the two long-time rivals threw every piece of flesh and bone at each other, the All Blacks claiming a 20-18 win.
The game echoed scenes at Ellis Park just months earlier when the All Blacks managed to steal a win in the Rugby Championship with a last minute try; this time, however, things were a lot more conventional.
While the performance wasn’t perfect, it was all that was needed and a win against any South African side should be viewed as a tremendous achievement.
Only missing two tackles the entire game, the All Blacks defended strongly for the full 80 minutes and South Africa never looked like scoring a try.
It’s hard to judge individual performances in what was a solid team effort, but below are the All Blacks’ player ratings for the game.
Joe Moody – 7/10
Moody had a tough task ahead of him – stepping in to replace the injured Wyatt Crockett. Moody, who was flown over from New Zealand last week for the game against France, had already found his feet with 60 minutes of game time in the quarter-final, though a start against South Africa would be the real test. He was quick to the breakdown, cleared the ball well and held up his end of the scrum. One penalty against him when the All Blacks were reduced to seven but aside from that a very complete performance.
Dane Coles – 8/10
Not a bad outing for Coles. Certainly not as involved as he usually is, but still produced clinical lineout throwing and always in the right place at the right time. Unfortunate not to get to a few more grubbers but his tenacity around the park was always at 100%.
Owen Franks – 7/10
Solid at the breakdown, supporting players well and a few decent hit-ups. Also held up the scrum extremely well, especially when Kaino was put in the sin bin for 10 minutes.
Brodie Retallick – 8/10
As always, Retallick was throwing himself at everything. Some great runs, a few monstrous hits, and a couple of lineout turnovers. Combined with Whitelock, the pair made things very difficult for the Springboks and survived the onslaught that came late in the game.
Sam Whitelock – 8/10
Like Retallick, Whitelock was clinical. A few lineouts won off South Africa and extremely effective on defense.
Jerome Kaino – 7/10
Despite Kaino’s dubious yellow card, he still performed to a very high standard. Great work rate, some big tackles, storming runs, and of course scoring one of the All Blacks two tries.
Richie McCaw – 7/10
We could just say ‘work rate’ and leave it there. McCaw was quick to the breakdown as always, disrupting the flow for South Africa and proving heavy in the tackles. Another solid performance from the captain.
Kieran Read – 6/10
Once again, Read struggled to perform for the All Blacks. A few handling errors and some unnecessary penalties around the maul cost him and his teammates some valuable territory and possession. Still supporting his players well and getting to the breakdown quickly but needs to work on his execution and decision making.
Aaron Smith – 8/10
Hard to fault Smith in this game. His passing was superb, his decision making better and his leading helped organise both the forwards and the backline. His kicking was on point, with the exception of one side-footer that came from a turnover.
Dan Carter – 9/10
Another solid game for the kiwi legend. For the first time in 8 years, Dan will start in a World Cup Final (knock on wood!). Carter was solid kicking all but one of his penalties/conversions. A cooly slotted drop-goal could be construed as the difference in the end and once again his passing was sublime.
Julian Savea – 7/10
Hard for ‘the bus’ to really get going in this one, but he attacked the line with speed and added some physicality when the All Blacks needed it most.
Ma’a Nonu – 7/10
Nonu managed to keep relatively busy despite not getting a lot of running ball. He attacked the line and made a few key tackles when the Springboks had half a chance on breakaways. He showed his world class decision making setting up Barrett for the All Blacks second in the corner. A solid performance before coming off after 52 minutes for Sonny-Bill Williams.
Conrad Smith – 7/10
Like Nonu, Smith found it hard to get good running ball, however his tackling can never be faulted and he chased all of the kicks to apply pressure on the South African backs.
Nehe Milner-Skudder – 6/10
Nehe wasn’t able to use his usual razzle-dazzle skills to get around the Springbok defense. He wasn’t great under the high-ball either losing two key kicks to the much more experienced Brian Habana. He almost had a half break in the second half and still managed to make a few metres despite the brick wall in front of him. Disappointing to see him go off injured (again!) but hopefully he will be back for next weeks final.
Ben Smith – 9/10
Ben Smith was flawless. Sensational under the high ball, clinical when it came to making tackles and running the ball, at the line, with speed. A well deserved Man of the Match performance.
Kevin Mealamu – 7/10
Hard for the hooker to get going after coming on with 13 minutes to play; 13 minutes where the All Blacks didn’t get a lot of ball. Still, he made some good tackles while on the pitch and was quick to clear the breakdown.
Ben Franks – 7/10
Like Mealamu, Franks only made it on to the pitch in the final ten. Along with the rest of the subs, he managed to add a fresh dose of intensity which saw the All Blacks defense hold until the 80th.
Charlie Faumuina – 7/10
As potent as always, coming in the 52 minute, Faumuina kept the scrum solid and made sure the defense stuck strong.
Sam Cane – 6/10
Unfortunately, Cane blew his opportunity to make a mark on the game. Knocking the ball on twice almost allowed South Africa to get back in it, if only the All Blacks didn’t step it up during scrum time.
Beauden Barrett – 8/10
Coming on early after Milner-Skudder limped off with an injury in the 49th minute, Barrett made sure he got the job done. He had some good touches with the ball, made some sound tackles and scored the try that would seal it for the All Blacks.
Sonny-Bill Williams – 8/10
Sonny-Bill Williams continues to prove his value at the World Cup and made some great runs to bruise the Springboks a little more this morning. A few half breaks, unable to get his hands free for the offload, but he worked hard and made sure he was in the right place at the right time.