If you’re looking for symbolism from the All Blacks’ crushing 41-13 win over South Africa in Christchurch on Saturday, then witness Ardie Savea’s try on 55 minutes.
The 22-year-old flanker, making his first international start, collects Aaron Smith’s off-loan and powers over for a debut score with two Springboks – Eben Etzebeth and Faf de Klerk hanging onto his back.
All three represent the present and future of their respective countries but the end result perfectly illustrated the gulf that exists.
Whereas the world champions have seamlessly filled the void of losing iconic figures Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu, the Boks are still working out how to compensate for the loss of leaders Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Jean de Villiers.
As coach Allister Coetzee bluntly concluded, New Zealand’s transition “has been very, very good, unlike in our case”. Those assigned with forming the bedrock of the side – fly-half Elton Jantjies, scrum-half De Klerk, full-back Johan Goosen and lock Pieter-Steph du Toit hold just 41 caps between them. And it’s shown, with Coetzee adding, “maybe some players are not ready for this level yet.”
When Coetzee took over in April, he had a number of challenges to deal with in order to bring back the culture of how rugby is perceived in South Africa; focusing on restoring Springbok traditions such as the set piece and a granite-like defence to give the team an identity.
A recurring problem against Argentina and Australia in their previous games was the habit of spreading the ball wide without creating any space. With 10 minutes to go against Australia in Brisbane last week, they were in sight of victory at 17-23, but a lack of experience and confidence saw them cough up possession when a try seemed inevitable.
Captain Adriaan Strauss should be telling his team-mates to hold on to the ball, play through the phases and do the simple things right under pressure. This all comes with experience as a collective unit, and game time against strong opposition is the only way to learn and rectify such mistakes.
The drop in performance over the last 12 months shouldn’t call for alarm bells just yet. Against the All Blacks they showed encouraging signs of improvement, but their overall decision-making, coupled with some inexcusable individual mistakes are restricting their position on the scoreboard.