All Blacks coach Steve Hansen hopes last night's 29-15 victory isn't remembered for all the wrong reasons; as one of the most controversial in recent times.
While the All Blacks enhanced their now 32-match unbeaten record at fortress Eden Park with a dominant display to retain their No 1 ranking, the performance of French referee Romain Poite robbed the contest of its superstar status.
"Let's not go too far with the robbed," Hansen said, preferring to highlight the performances of blooded openside Sam Cane, workaholic lock Brodie Retallick and calm playmaker Beauden Barrett.
"I'd hate to think this test match was remembered for that. There was a whole lot of other stuff that made it memorable."
Blood. Guts. Scraps. Carnage. This had it all.
"That's what you want in a test match," All Blacks captain Kieran Read said.
"No-one was going to give an inch out there. We certainly don't take a step back."
Unfortunately though, Poite's decision to hand Springboks hooker Bismarck du Plessis two yellow cards will make headlines.
Du Plessis personified the visitor's aggression and, ultimately, paid the price. Not even Hansen disagreed he should have only been carded once, though which colour was up for discussion.
Fed on a diet of spinach-flavoured biltong, du Plessis is Popeye in disguise. Naturally, when Dan Carter received a hospital pass and the big Boks rake simultaneously, he crumbled into a heap and slinked from the field with an AC shoulder injury that will keep him out of action for four to six weeks.
The subsequent decision to sin-bin du Plessis, though, was a shocker. It was a legal tackle. Arms were used. Sense should have prevailed.
Sure, his second yellow card was fully justified - du Plessis led with a forearm to strike All Blacks flanker Liam Messam in the neck. But the red card that followed, just two minutes into the second half, should never have been. The Boks should not have been forced to play with 14-men for the majority of the second-half. Hansen had a different view.
"Perhaps Bismarck may have been a bit unlucky on Dan's yellow card but he probably got the other ones right so we've got no complaints," he said.
"It's not legal to go around putting your elbow in someone's throat. The second yellow may well have been a red card. You want to have a balanced look at it. You pay the price for being ill-disciplined."
No surprises, either, at this time the travelling South African media were requesting a polite chat with Poite post-match. But the Springboks camp did their best to play the gracious diplomacy card.
"The match officials make their decisions and we have to live by that," Boks captain Jean de Villiers said. "We haven't won here for almost 80 years [since 1937] so to try and do it with 14 men it's not going to happen. It did take a bit of the spectacle away.
"One thing we can't look past is they were the better team. They played better than us. We need to take a look at ourselves because that certainly wasn't a performance that was good enough to compete with them."
Du Plessis was quickly painted as the villain; pointed at and booed all the way to his white plastic seat.
Ma'a Nonu didn't suffer the same ignominy when he took the match tally to four yellow cards for a late hit on de Villiers which was a shoulder charge.
The shame of it all was the poor officiating killed off a genuine royal rumble. This was two superpowers slugging it out. After a 10-man shove the Boks got back within striking distance at half-time, trailing 17-10. Then, in an instant, Poite turned out the lights.
No doubt the All Blacks deserve their victory, which came at another high cost.
Luckily, Hansen has remarkable depth. No Richie McCaw and, essentially, no Carter. And still no worries. Barrett, Cane, Charles Piutau and green hooker Dane Coles slotted into a furious fight seamlessly.
No other nation could cope with such influential losses.
So, the All Blacks reign supreme once again. But, today, we feel a little cheated. Thanks Poite.
New Zealand 29 (Kieran Read 2, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane tries; Dan Carter con; Beauden Barrett pen, 2 cons) South Africa 15 (Bismarck du Plessis, Patrick Lambie tries; Morne Steyn pen, con). Ht: 17-10
- Sunday Star Times
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