With the Springboks showing their old steely resolve to prick the All Blacks’ winning bubble 36-34 in Wellington on Saturday night, world rugby was enriched by what was a titanic contest.
It also served as a warning to critics who claimed New Zealand would win a third consecutive World Cup in Japan next year that form is a fickle lady in which fate can depend on the unpredictable bounce of an oval ball.
Not that it was luck that carried South Africa to victory, though some bad All Black decisions contributed to the visitors deserved success, such as not trying to convert penalties or reverting to a field goal at the death.
There was also that reckless quick lineout throw by Jordie Barrett that gifted alert opposing fullback Willie le Roux his try. But nothing could detract from the Springboks’ gutsy defence and growing self-belief.
Just how much that meant to them could be seen in the tears of joy and relief that flowed after the final whistle before which their try-line was under siege.
In the end, the All Blacks scored six tries to South Africa’s five but Beauden Barrett could convert just two and missed some easy ones. That possibly dented his confidence and contributed to him not trying the field goal that, if successful, could have swung the result.
In the end it was a deserved Springboks win, sportingly acknowledged by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen after the heroics of captain Siya Kolisi, No 8 Warren Whiteley, hooker Malcolm Marx, halfback Faf de Klerk, speedy wing Aphiwe Dyantyi and the livewire Le Roux.
It is a good time for the All Blacks to have a fortnight’s break before trying to clinch the Rugby Championship by playing Argentina and South Africa abroad.
Not for the first time did the team that won possession and territory lose the game with the All Blacks reaching 75 per cent and 79 per cent respectively and the Springboks having to make an incredible 235 tackles to their 61.
Having proved match winners so often, it is not fair to blame the gifted Barrett brothers for this loss although Ben Smith still looks best suited to fullback which would allow game breaker Waisake Naholo to return to right wing.
On the other wing, Rieko Ioane celebrated his return from a hamstring injury with two sharply taken tries but needed more ball in the second half.
As usual, Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown were rock solid in the midfield but lacked the sharp cutting edge of substitute Jack Goodhew.
In exercising strength and determination in scoring a late try, Ardie Savea also added thrust to a forward pack in which unsung hooker Codie Taylor continues to thrive in the absence of Dane Coles.
Although South Africa will have gained much needed confidence from their win under new coach Rassie Erasmus, the All Blacks should better appreciate the need to take better options.
Meanwhile Kiwi petrol heads had cause to celebrate Scott Dixon’s fifth IndyCar championship triumph in America by sealing it at Sonoma Raceway on Monday when finishing runner-up behind Ryan Hunter-Reay.
The 38-year-old Chip Ganassi Racing driver also won in 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015 and is only two shy of the record set by AJ Foyt.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author