All Black bench was the decider – Rassie Erasmus
When the Springboks played their best rugby of 2018 against the All Blacks at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria on Saturday, they had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
For all the Boks’ effort and endeavour, the All Blacks found the sixth gear that allowed them to reel in a 12point deficit in the last eight minutes to beat the Springboks 32-30 in a pulsating Test match.
The result may have been everything for the disappointed capacity crowd, but Springbok coach Johan “Rassie” Erasmus was happy with the team’s performance.
Erasmus admitted that New Zealand’s experienced bench made all the difference.
“I really think it was one of the best tactical performances in a while because we spoke about the expected All Black backlash on our way back from Wellington,” Erasmus said.
“We looked back at the time when they lost to Ireland in the US and exacted revenge in Dublin. I was still at Munster at the time and I realised the need to match the All Blacks physically and tactically.
“I really thought we handled them physically and tactically for 72 minutes, but they’re a class team.
“I thought their bench did better when it came on and I don’t think it was because of effort, I think it was because of experience.
“I’ll never blame it on the substitutes and if I’m going to blame anyone, it’s going to be myself. The amount of game time the substitutes have got since I’ve been involved with the Springboks in June has been as much as one would have wished for.
“They [the All Blacks] had experienced substitutes.”
All Black coach Steve Hansen threw his bench on early as the Boks raced to a 23-6 lead in the second half before the visitors started their fightback with Aaron Smith’s try.
Hansen said their bench did what was expected of them.
“They did what we asked them to do. They provided energy and purpose. Someone like Ardie Savea had to come in early and he’s really growing.
“This season, he’s really made a mark,” Hansen said.
“He got two turnovers and a try in the end but he had to go a long way into the game. All of them did their job.
“We went to our bench really early. Both props were on early and Patrick Tuipulotu also came on 10 minutes early.
“How you use your bench is a trump card and both teams have good benches.
“Rassie went deep into the game with his because he could afford to – when they’re there, you have to play them at some point.
“It’s an art to come off the bench and do something. We train that a lot and there’s an expectation that they add to the game.
“Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but you can’t keep playing everyone for 80 minutes.”
All Black captain Kieran Read missed last week’s game against Argentina so he could be fresh for Loftus.
He led with aplomb and also had an excellent game allround, even though his Bok counterpart Siya Kolisi had a better game.
History, though, will record Read as the fifth All Black captain after Sean Fitzpatrick, Taine Randell, Reuben Thorne and Richie McCaw to win at Loftus Versfeld.
Despite the varying deficits, Read said they did not entertain thoughts of losing.
“There was always time for us to get back into the game. With 10 minutes to go when we were down by 12, I always thought we were right in it,” Read said.
“For the majority of the game, they dictated to us and they did a fantastic job at that.”