The Rugby Championship came to a thundering climax at Ellis Park where the undisputed best two teams on the planet faced off for the title.
In a breathless encounter that will have made the rest of the rugby world shudder the All Blacks ran out worthy winners against a Springbok team that for long periods, matched them in both skill and intensity.
But you don’t stay at number one for over 200 consecutive weeks without good reason – and they ran in 5 tries to South Africa’s four.
Played at altitude it was the most exciting game for decades – not since the All Blacks lost to the Barbarians in 1973 has a match lifted my spirits so high (I don’t count the 2003 World Cup Final – I was way too nervous to be excited until after the final whistle!)
The Springboks surprised me as well as the Abs by playing a wide expansive game and two tries in two minutes from Bryan Habana made my prediction of a New Zealand win look distinctly shaky. He had to depart with a hamstring injury which may be of concern to Toulon later in the season.
There were exceptional performances all over the pitch – from both sides – Kieran Read went over and proved once more that he is the best no 8 in the world, Jean De Villiers and Willie Le Roux gave the All Blacks some nervous moments and Liam Messam equalled Habana’s touch down efforts.
Beauden Barrett came on for Aaron Smith and looked to have been out of place when De Villiers smashed through him for the fourth Springbok try. The youngster put that notion to bed in Boy’s Own fashion when he carved his way through to give the Abs their 4th – and effectively the trophy. Later he saved a certain try at the other end with a scything tackle on Le Roux.
At the risk of repeating myself – how on earth is Ma’a Nonu is not playing in the Super XV next year?
Steve Hansen will be feeling pretty good this morning – not least because it is rumoured that SBW is returning to Union with the Chiefs.
Sonny Bill had a stormer for the Roosters in the NRL final against the Sea Eagles on Sunday and looks like hem might be available to Hansen for 2015.
Down in Argentina the final game in the Championship was another turn up for the books – the Wallabies putting the Pumas to the sword with a record breaking win 54 – 17.
I have no regrets in getting that one wrong! Israel Folau has threatened to be a star since he exploded onto the international stage against the British Lions – he confirmed that on Saturday night with his three tries. Will Genia was rightly back in the number 9 shirt and his partnership with Quade Cooper helped tear the Pumas to shreds.
The Pumas were surprisingly subdued in this game compared with their home performances against the other sides and although their set piece was generally strong they wasted an early opportunity when they camped on the Aussie line for six successive scrums. They were also bested in the loose by some distance.
It will give the Aussies some much needed confidence but they will need more than that when they face the All Blacks on Saturday week in the final Bledisloe Cup game in Dunedin. It’s not called the ‘House of Pain’ for nothing!
Nevertheless the Wallabies will take some comfort from the win for their tour to the Northern Hemisphere where they will face both England and Wales – their opponents in the ‘group of death’ as well as Italy, Ireland and Scotland.