South Africa 20 v 27 New Zealand
Both teams were missing some regulars in their ranks: South Africa were missing Jean De Villiers, JP Peterson, Victor Matfield, Duane Vermelen, Willem Alberts and Marcell Coetzee due to injuries, and New Zealand were missing Julian Savea, Waisake Naholo, Dan Carter, Sam Whitelock, Sonny Bill Williams and Jerome Kaino due to some injuries but also selectional decisions. So how did some of the the replacements perform?
For New Zealand, Lima Sopoaga started at 10 replacing Carter. The surprise was that Sopoaga was selected over Beauden Barrett, who in most people's eyes is the second choice behind Carter. The fact the coaches made this call shows their faith in Sopoaga, especially when you take into account who they are playing, and the location in Ellis Park, Johannesburg. The player played well, set up one try for Ben Smith with a great run when he spotted a gap, and then showed great composure to loft a pass over the top to Smith to go under the posts. The second debutant for New Zealand was James Broadhurst at lock, who got smashed a few times in the tackle, as well as getting held up a few times carrying into contact. He competed well at the set piece but was taken off at half time for Sam Whitelock. Broadhurst is a good player and I am sure he will appear again.
South Africa had Lode De Jager replacing Matfield, and he had an outstanding match. His defensive work was excellent, and he carried the ball strongly a number of times. He was also the line out caller and won a number of line outs thorughout the match. If Matfield is injured, he looks like a more than a capable replacement. Heinrich Brussouw played his first match at openside flanker since 2011 replacing Coetzee, and there was no surprise with his work at the breakdown in defence. He gets so low over the ball and is so strong, making it difficult to knock him off his feet, and he should be very happy with his performance.
Both teams can be pleased with the line outs on their own ball in the main, however later in the match when South Africa made a number of changes they lost some key ball, but the starting 15 will have been content with how they went. Kieran Read did win one against the throw, but in the main both teams will be happy. In the scrum, South Africa dominated and are a very formidable unit, the front five of Mtawaria, the Du Plessis brothers, Etzebeth and De Jager/Matfield will be a match for any front five in the world. Even when changes were made they looked very strong in this area, and Vincent Koch of the Stormers looked very comfortable in these surroundings. New Zealand front five is also very good, but as a scrummaging unit, South Africa had the edge.
It was a real shame in the second half when due to injuries it went to uncontested scrums, as it had been a great battle up until that point.
Both teams are very adept in this area, and both are very savvy at when to commit in defence to try to win the ball. The two sides have a number of players who are exceptional in attack, knocking people away when trying to win the ball, and also defensively staying on their feet, either turning it over or at the very least, slowing the opposition ball down. It was a great contest on the floor, but for me South Africa with Bisamark Du Plessis, Heinrich Brussouw, Schalk Burger and Francois Louw just edged it.
This is an area which both teams excel, New Zealand in particular. When they see an opportunity they are so clinical, be it an overlap, or just identifying players who are out of position in the defensive line. The first try of the match in particular illustrated this; turnover ball by Du Plessis, ball out to Burger who identified that New Zealand were stretched and had front five players in their defensive line, one accurate long pass out to Jesse Kriel, and then a shorterer inside pass back to Willie Le Roux who scored. Fast and clinical.
Players That Stood Out
For South Africa, De Jager was excellent, as was Burger who drove his team on in his first ever match as captain for South Africa. However for me the two players who really stood out were their centres Damian De Allende and Jesse Kriel. De Allendre is a real powerhouse, knocking defenders over, but also has an eye for a pass, he is one to watch and Jean De Villiers has a battle on his hands to get his 12 shirt back. Jesse Kriel looks a real find, has played full back all season with the Blue Bulls but has shone at outside centre for South Africa. The try he scored when he cut a great line off Handre Pollard and went between Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith - not many have done that over the years, he looks a real player.
For New Zealand, Aaron Smith played very well and proved brave a number of times, sweeping up behind and diving on grubber kicks. Richie McCaw as ever was strong in defence, and Sopoaga looked very assured on his debut. For me though, the two players that stood out were Dane Coles and Charles Piutau. Coles was all over the field, making tackles and he scored a great try. Piutau was excellent, brave in defence and a number of times made breaks in attack with ball in hand and always made good decisions. Ulster Rugby look to have a very good player for next season.
Rightly so these two teams are the best in the world, they have so much strength in depth and it is going to take a special performance from someone else to stop these two competing in the World Cup final.
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