Give yourself a hand: Dan Carter celebrates the All Blacks win over South Africa. Photo: Laurence Griffiths
The Wallabies’ hopes of winning the World Cup have taken a heavy dent without playing a game.
In the first half of the semi-final against South Africa the All Blacks lost their heads, lost the aerial battle, lost the breakdown and lost the referee. Then a bloke called Dan Carter put it all together again in a masterful 10 minutes that turned the game.
First, he knocked over a drop goal after 46 minutes, while the All Blacks were down to 14 men, then he stripped Schalk Burger to create the turnover that led to Beauden Barrett’s crucial try that put the All Blacks in front for the first time since the 9th minute. And to put the icing on the cake he nailed the sideline conversion. The best side in the world nearly beat themselves with their dreadful discipline and a series of errors as the pigskin turned into a greased pig in the London rain. The will not be so charitable next weekend.
The Springboks had brought what everyone thought they would. Their aerial work was quite magnificent. Three times in the first minutes Willie Le Roux took defensive bombs. Then Bryan Habana twice leapt superbly from Fourie du Preez kicks to dominate Nehe Milner-Skudder. The little Hurricane is a magician with the ball but the way he was caught on his heels was a reminder of Cory Jane’s absent talents.
At the scrum the Springboks had the ascendancy throughout, winning a number of penalties – fuel for Argentines whether working for Wallaby gold or blue and white. How the Springboks will wonder what could have been had the lineout shown the same efficiency.
The All Blacks almost threw the game away between the 25th and 40th minute. In that period in which the All Blacks failed to register a single point, blew a prime attacking opportunity due to a neck roll penalty against Joe Moody at the breakdown, and then compounded the error by forcing the whistleblower to reach for his yellow card after a silly offence by Jerome Kaino. Handre Pollard banked the three points to edge the half-time lead to five points and South African ran off feeling 10 feet high. In the midst of that Carter missed a fairly straightforward penalty that hit the posts. World Cup pressure is real pressure. It gets them all.
As the second half wore on the All Blacks released the chokehold from their own necks and began to apply it to their traditional rivals. They camped down in Springboks territory and always kept a nose in front on the scoreboard, even though they were just an inspired play away from a loss.
This was a test of nerves, no doubt lived out in a million Kiwi living rooms in the wee hours. But when it mattered, Carter stepped up. When the Boks hacked ahead from turnover ball in the last 10 minutes and sent their fast men after the ball in search of a famous score that would have won the game, the bloke in black No.10 ran back and kicked it into touch.
After all his previous heartache, this might be Dan Carter’s World Cup after all.