Beauden Barrett, sharpened tip of All Blacks arrow
Yokohama (Japan) (AFP)
Beauden Barrett once again proved his worth for the All Blacks in their hard-fought 23-13 victory over old rivals South Africa, matching solid defence with fleet-footed attack.
A former two-time World Rugby Player of the Year, Barrett has been moved to full-back by All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen to accommodate Richie Mo'unga in the number 10 shirt.
It hasn't hindered him, with Barrett's talent and speed in open play, especially on the counter attack, marking him out as one of the world's most dangerous players with ball in hand.
Every time he came near the ball at Yokohama Stadium there were gasps in expectation that something was about to happen.
The flexible Barrett has said he is equally happy to play at 10 or 15 and on Saturday he almost filled a traditional five-eighths role, often stepping into Mo'unga's boots as second receiver and deciding what plays were on.
The All Blacks had to bide their time against a powerful Springbok team, relying on a strong defensive set before unleashing their attacking potential in a display of how to play rugby under pressure and to your own structure.
The match kicked off with the predicted Bok aerial bombardment, notably down the wing of relative All Black rookie George Bridge.
And then South Africa seemed to turn the screw. Barnstorming centre Damian de Allende was at the heart of the midfield attack, taking strips out of Mo'unga down the fly-half's channel.
- Kolbe theatrics -
Diminutive Toulouse winger Cheslin Kolbe buzzed around like an irritated hummingbee, once charging after Sevu Reece and pounding him into the pristine grass in front of more than 63,000 spectators.
Kolbe also harangued Mo'unga over the All Blacks tryline after a deft chip by ubiquitous scrum-half Faf de Klerk, whose bobbing long blonde hair brought to mind French great Jean-Pierre Rives.
Franco Mostert and Eben Etzebeth took up the mantle of previous Bok enforcer locks Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield, using their weight and precision to clear out rucks and add physicality to the defensive line.
But on 25 minutes, the All Blacks finally broke free of their defensive set, a perfectly-weighted Barrett kick-pass setting Reece away on an electric run.
The Fiji-born flyer freed Ardie Savea, a quick ruck was recycled and slick hands by the quickly-realigned Barrett were enough for Bridge to crash over for the opening try. Simple as that.
The Boks were stunned. A Handre Pollard spilled ball handed the advantage straight back to the defending champions almost immediately, Anton Lienert-Brown spotting a gap, jinking through and playing in Beauden Barrett's brother Scott for a lock's long gallop home.
Savea, No 8 and skipper Kieran Read and openside Sam Cane bossed the breakdown, and hooker Dane Coles enjoyed a dynamic first-half, replaced by Codie Taylor at the break.
The Boks came out firing in the second-half -- the last four games between the two sides have been settled by a combined total of five points. No one expected any different.
Hard-hitting Pieter-Steph du Toit crashed over for a try that brought the Boks back into it.
There then followed five minutes of harum-scarum rugby that saw Kolbe also go close before Barrett broke free only to watch as his neat grubber went into touch with no one at home in defence for the Springboks.
An excellent Pollard drop-goal was cancelled out by a Mo'unga penalty, but it was Barrett who had the final word, the man-of-the-match calmly stroking over a penalty of his own to leave it 23-13 despite some last-gasp Kolbe theatrics.
© 2019 AFP