Some positives for Boks from Auckland
It was not all doom and gloom for the Springboks as they headed home to South Africa after a bitterly disappointing 29-15 loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday.
While the match was overshadowed by the two yellow cards given by referee Romain Poite to hooker Bismarck du Plessis that robbed the game of a contest, there were some positives that the Boks could take out of the game.
Captain Jean de Villiers and coach Heyneke Meyer may not have come out and slammed Poite’s role in undermining the contest, and they did take it on the chin and take the blame upon themselves but considering the way the match unfolded and the fact the Boks had to play with 14 men for more than 50 minutes, the statistics for the game actually paint a better picture than Bok fans might think.
While De Villiers was right in saying the Boks didn’t capitalise on their chances when they had 15 men, and it is very difficult to really quantify the meaning of the statistics given the lopsided nature of the match, it certainly will give the Boks something to cling to as they prepare for the return game in a few weeks' time.
Taking into account that Fourie du Preez is likely to start in the two home games, replacing the jittery service of Ruan Pienaar, which has been haphazard of late, as well as the fact that the Boks will be more confident playing on home soil, the Boks will feel upbeat about winning the two home games and making up ground on New Zealand.
Indeed, the Ellis Park test could come down to a winner-takes-all situation for the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, as the world champions are four points ahead of the Boks now, with their two overseas games against Argentina and the Boks to come.
If the Boks can achieve a bonus-point win in Cape Town against the Aussies, and assuming there isn't an upset in Argentina, the Boks may well just need a victory at Ellis Park to seal the Rugby Championship.
To start off with, it may surprise some that the All Blacks once again kicked more than the Boks, with Sanzar’s own match statistics showing 32 kicks for the men in black as compared to 26 for the Boks.
But the real surprise comes in the attacking stats. The general feeling was that the Boks were stunted on attack when Du Plessis went off the field, and that they became a lot more defensively minded.
The four tries to two scoreline could be ascribed to the imbalance of players on the field, as three of those were scored when the Boks were down to 14.
At the same time the Boks scored their second try when the All Blacks were down to 13 men after receiving two late yellow cards in the game.
The Boks carried the ball more times than the All Blacks (SA 89 to NZ 88) and had a net return of positive 293 metres, as opposed to the All Blacks' 314.
Both sides made three clean breaks.
At the breakdown the Bok ruck count shadowed the All Blacks 65 to 63, and the All Blacks lost eight rucks to the Boks' five.
In the setpiece, both sides lost two lineouts, while the Boks had a 100% return in their scrums while the Kiwis lost two scrums on their own ball.
Considering that the Bok scrum was reduced to seven men for most of the game, and this included losing Willem Alberts to put a replacement hooker on the field, this is an astonishing statistic.
But while it doesn’t help to cry over spilt milk, or a poor ref, the Boks will take these statistics to heart knowing they were robbed of a chance to show their worth, but even though they were disadvantaged for most of the game, they put up one hell of a fight.
New Zealand – who played against 14 men for almost the entire second half – could only win the half 12-5.
There were also poor moments. Bryan Habana’s kick was the launching pad for the opening try by New Zealand while the defence generally was nowhere near the standard it needed to be.
While both teams won a similar number of turnovers, the Boks missed 18 tackles in the game, but surprisingly made fewer tackles than the All Blacks (97 to 105).
The other stat that the Boks will have to improve is a massive 21 turnovers, something that was not good enough by their own standards.
It was a difficult game to analyse, especially as it was so slanted in favour of the world champions when Du Plessis was off the field.
But it also shows that despite the emotional reaction to Poite’s failings, the Boks can take something positive out of the match.
Something other than getting on the flight out of Auckland.