At Mbombela Stadium, Mbombela: Springboks 26 (Kurt-Lee Arendse 8min, Willie le Roux 80min tries; Handre Pollard 2 con, 3 pen, drop goal). All Blacks 10 (Shannon Frizell try 78min; Richie Mo’unga con, Jordie Barrett pen). HT: 10-3.
Red card: Kurt-Lee Arendse (75min).
Ian Foster can’t escape the nightmare.
As he watched the All Blacks lose 26-10 to the Springboks in their Rugby Championship match in Mbombela on Sunday morning, Foster may have finally realised he is no longer the right man to coach this team.
Five losses from the last six tests says it all. And this misadventure is not over.
Next weekend the All Blacks must do it all again against the Springboks, at the citadel of Ellis Park in Johannesburg, and unless Foster can dramatically turnaround the team’s fortunes in the space of a week his tenure as the boss of this team will surely be over.
At no stage did the All Blacks lead on the scoreboard at Mbombela Stadium – and they didn’t look like scoring a try until Shannon Frizell completed a terrific break-out by Caleb Clarke in the dying minutes.
The Springboks dominated in the scrum, the breakdown and their smothering defence was outstanding. Not even the loss of halfback Faf de Klerk in the first minute, after he was unconscious following a whack in the head by Caleb Clarke’s knee, could alter the outcome.
There was drama late in the match when the Springboks right wing Kurt-Lee Arendse was red carded for colliding with Beauden Barrett in the air, but by then their fans were already feasting on beef and beer to celebrate the victory.
With 42,300 supporters revelling in the Springboks’ physicality and intent, especially with hooker Malcolm Marx creating mayhem by winning turnover penalties during a magnificent 53-minute shift, the All Blacks had to fight for every inch of territory in the heat.
Getting their hands on the ball wasn’t a major drama – but holding it long enough to cause panic in the Springboks defence was problematic.
Whether it be with Marx and his mates using their powerful bodies and technique to create anxiety in the breakdowns or claim early scrum penalties, the home side often held all the aces.
The All Blacks wanted to play at a frantic speed, and no doubt would have been frustrated to see the big opposition forwards repeatedly slump to the deck for water breaks in a bid to slow the tempo, but struggled to chisel their way through the rush defence.
A great team like the Springboks is hard enough to beat at the best of times. But when you’re struggling at the rucks, failing to hold the ball or the penalty count is climbing, you may as well stay at home and stare at the wallpaper unless you can work some genius into your attack.
The All Blacks’ desire couldn’t be faulted. But the mistakes hurt them and potent ball runners such as Rieko Ioane, Will Jordan and Clarke had a limited impact.
Tortured by slow starts during the 2-1 series loss to Ireland, the All Blacks failed, again, to release handbrake after the first whistle.
Their latest misfortune was sparked by a high kick from Springboks No 10 Handre Pollard, which wasn’t taken cleanly by Beauden Barrett and when Lukhanyo Am swept the pill off the floor he sent Ardense into space for the five-pointer.
Pollard added to the misery by kicking a penalty when Sam Cane was penalised at the breakdown, as the Springboks bounced out to a 10-0 lead mid-way through the first spell.
The All Blacks’ intent was clear; they had a burning desire to keep shifting the ball through the hands, in an attempt to either run their opponents off the feet or punch through a fracture in the rushing defensive line.
There were fleeting moments of magic, none more so that when Beauden Barrett rocketed out from the tryline to spark a counterattack but that came to nothing after a sloppy pass by Akira Ioane went forward.
Errors, at key moments, were an issue for the All Blacks. David Havili knocked-on to ruin a promising movement, Marx won two penalties at the rucks and the scrum, early in the game, was in great strife.
Three penalties against the props in the set-piece caused anxiety, although they rebounded to get one back on the Boks pack in the final scrum of the half.
Wary of the giants in green lurking in the lineouts, the All Blacks opted to squeeze-up with four men earlier in the game as a ploy to guarantee much-needed possession.
The home side’s tactic of going to the air also created dramas for the All Blacks who, given their lack of possession and territory for long periods, would have been reasonably satisfied to only trail 10-3 at halftime.
The question, now, is how can they turn around their fortunes ahead of the encounter at Ellis Park.
The big moment
The first try to the Springboks, to wing Arendse, set the tone. It encouraged the locals to really open their voice boxes, as they cheered their team to victory.
The moment Malcolm Marx took the field, the All Blacks were in strife. He led a Springboks pack that dismantled the All Blacks at the breakdown.
The big picture
Coach Foster needs to somehow lift his team to win in Jo’burg next weekend, or he will surely have to end his tenure as the man to take this team forward.