Justin Marshall: ABs' finest test under Hansen

17:17, Oct 08 2013
Ben Smith
Ben Smith evades the tackle of Morne Steyn to score in the first half.
Kieran Read
Kieran Read fends off Willem Alberts.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam is all smiles after scoring his first of two tries in the first half.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam points skyward after scoring the first of his two tries.
Fourie du Preez
Springboks halfback Fourie du Preez boots a box kick from the back of a ruck.
Bryan Habana
Bryan Habana grabs his left hamstring after catching a clearing kick.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam steps inside a Sprinboks defender to score his second try.
Richie McCaw
Richie McCaw runs at the Springboks defence at Ellis Park.
Bryan Habana
A forlorn and injured Bryan Habana sits on the bench in the second half.
Beauden Barrett
Beauden Barrett skips away from Zane Kirchner to score the All Blacks' bonus point try.

My goodness. It's going to be a challenge to find the words to do justice to not just one of the greatest All Black performances, but also one of the finest test matches. But here goes.

First of all, congratulations to Richie McCaw and his All Blacks for their epic 38-27 victory over South Africa at Ellis Park, which completed their second consecutive clean sweep of the Rugby Championship. Undefeated, and unmatched.

But, boy, did the Springboks push them in what was a tremendous advertisement for test rugby at one of its iconic venues.

This was the best All Blacks performance of the Steve Hansen era, and maybe one of the greatest of all time. I'd certainly put it on a par with the match everyone widely regards as the finest of the professional era - the 39-35 last-gasp win over the Wallabies at Sydney's Olympic Stadium in 2000, which I was privileged to have played in.

I was lucky enough to go into the changing room after the game yesterday, and the players to a man all remarked about what a great game it had been to be involved in. They were also very complimentary towards South Africa, who showed they can play. The All Blacks enjoyed that.

They all felt they'd been part of a special occasion. I remember thinking something similar in 2000 when it struck me that even if we'd lost it still would have been a thrill to have been involved in such a great test match.

This game was well and truly up there with that. It was monumental.

It had everything - drama, controversy, individual brilliance and tremendous team courage, particularly from the All Blacks, who defended their line like their lives depended on it, down to 14 men for 20 minutes.

The boys in the changing room all confirmed it had been hugely physical. For the All Blacks, holding out their driving mauls and not wilting at scrum time while down a man had courage and personality written all over it.

While we had the magic finish back in 2000 to snatch victory, the All Blacks in Johannesburg faced more adversity in a game that had more riding on it. For them to secure the championship by scoring four tries, then still being so desperate to win speaks a lot about the character of this group.

The Springboks played their part, too, scoring four tries against the All Blacks for the first time in an age. And they were all gems too.

But Beauden Barrett's chase-down of Willie le Roux showed what this meant to the All Blacks. They had what they needed, but they wanted more.

This was this team's biggest challenge and you could see how much they wanted it. They all contributed, too. Liam Messam was superb, Kieran Read was at his creative best, Ben Smith's finishing and chase work were wonderful, Israel Dagg had a good test. I could go on. Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Charlie Faumuina, Richie McCaw, Andrew Hore ... they all played their part.

These All Blacks now have almost unprecedented depth.

They certainly haven't had it all their own way this year, with McCaw and Carter missing tests, Cory Jane absent and even Owen Franks out for this one.

But the way the next wave of players have stood up has been impressive. I thought Faumuina was outstanding yesterday, and Sam Cane's performances while McCaw was out were superb.

Last year, we saw Luke Romano added to the second-row depth; now Brodie Retallick is going from strength to strength. We can throw Steven Luatua and Dane Coles into that mix, too.

But the one who really sticks out from this test is Barrett. We're talking our third-string No 10 coming on in a pivotal situation and putting in a near flawless performance. Sure he missed that tackle on de Villiers but, boy, he bounced back from that with just a mature performance.

This was Conrad Smith's last game for the year, but is that such a bad thing? Ben Smith will likely slot into centre and there's an opportunity for Jane to return. Holy cow, we've got some depth now.

There was a time when if certain individuals were missing standards dropped. But those days are over.

It's a luxury our rival countries don't have, and one of the reasons they're all chasing the All Blacks at the moment.

Justin Marshall played 81 tests for the All Blacks between 1995 and 2005.


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