Warm-up games are seldom significant, but the manner in which the Springboks ripped into the All Blacks to make World Cup statement was a thrill to watch, writes Ashfak Mohamed.
Yes, it was not the World Cup, but I hope the Springboks celebrated their glorious 35-7 triumph over the All Blacks properly in London on Friday night.
World Cup warm-up games are seldom significant, but the magnitude of the occasion at a packed Twickenham, the manner in which the Springboks ripped into the All Blacks and the lack of a riposte from Ian Foster’s team showed that this was a truly special Bok performance.
It is in some ways similar to the Boks’ last warm-up match in 2019, when they dispatched Japan 41-7 in Kumagaya.
On that September day, the South Africans ran in six tries in a comprehensive victory that ensured the Boks were able to handle the hype of a World Cup quarter-final against the host nation.
Siya Kolisi’s team needed to get a win over the All Blacks this year, as they could face them in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals – having lost their last two Tests against their great rivals, at Ellis Park last season and then the 35-20 defeat in Auckland in July.
They were so much sharper in the opening quarter at Twickenham compared to what they dished up at Mount Smart Stadium, and despite not converting a number of early opportunities, eventually they scored five excellent tries to inflict a record margin of victory and the All Blacks’ biggest ever defeat.
There were some critics and fans who felt that the win was a hollow one because of the red card to Scott Barrett late in the first half, but the Boks have every right to take real confidence out of such a commanding performance that underlined their credentials as World Cup title contenders.
Growing up in a tough neighbourhood, Damian Willemse was given an opportunity to attend @PaulRoos_Gym thanks to his exploits on the rugby field, and that was just the beginning for the versatile #Springboks back – watch here: https://t.co/aCsSSNAh5y 💪#StrongerTogether
— Springboks (@Springboks) August 27, 2023
There was no doubt that the Boks were already dominant up to that point, and they were 14-0 up via tries by Kolisi and Kurt-lee Arendse.
In fact, South Africa could easily have doubled that lead by then, and coach Jacques Nienaber would have been delighted to see how the Boks rammed home their advantage by adding three second-half touchdowns.
Manie Libbok’s 100% goal-kicking record and general attacking prowess was a joy to watch, and the physicality from the forwards, as well as the creativity and power from backs such as André Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi and Damian Willemse added the gloss to a memorable outing.
— Springboks (@Springboks) August 26, 2023
But the big winner on the night was young Canan Moodie, who proved that he can fill Lukhanyo Am’s boots in France.
Jesse Kriel is the current first-choice outside centre at the moment in Am’s injury-enforced absence, but the way in which Moodie handled his first Test in the No.13 jersey will give Nienaber plenty to ponder ahead of the World Cup opener against Scotland on September 10. The 20-year-old Bulls star wasn’t overawed by opposite number Rieko Ioane, stood strong in defence and produced some sparkling touches on attack.
The highlight of his display was his thrilling run early in the second half, where he stepped past Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga for what would have been a try-of-the-season contender – only for the five-pointer to be ruled out for offside.
“That pack just made my job easier, to be honest. On 13 for the first time, I know what I had to do, and just stay composed. We got a great result today,” Moodie said afterwards.
“Centre is where I’ve played most of my career at, so – I’m not going to say it was easy – but I was well-prepped in the week. The coaches, guys like Jesse, who’s always helping me out. Guys like Lukhanyo was here, so I could ask questions. That made it much easier for me to slot in.”