All Blacks coach Ian Foster has called on his team to deliver a ‘Grand Slam’ with the first unbeaten run of The Rugby Championship since they achieved the feat in 2017.
New Zealand’s come from behind 19-17 defeat of the Springboks in their historic 100th Test on Saturday in Townsville was their fifth from five games, with the second match against South Africa to be played on Saturday at the Gold Coast.
“Quite frankly, you go up to the Six Nations and if they win five games they celebrate it as a Grand Slam, and we’ve got that chance now in The Rugby Championship to have a grand slam opportunity next week,” said Foster after the tight battle.
“For this group to actually put themselves in that position is massive credit to Ardie Savea and the men for the way they’re gelling together and working hard.
“We know to achieve what we want to next week and get that grand slam we’re going to have to lift a couple of cogs from tonight.”
The All Blacks’ defeat of the Springboks was the closest they’ve been run this season after cruising to double victories over Australia and Argentina.
Their performance has displayed their incredble depth with key men, including Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga, out of action at times.
“We are making strides on the physical side of the game and we are making some strides in our ability to deal with set piece pressure and how we go about it,” Foster said.
“Clearly we’re not the finished product yet, we know that. But I love the way we stayed in the fight and we problem solved and muscled up.
“We made that game a massive contest and an arm wrestle type of game that probably wasn’t the game we wanted to have.”
The Springboks imposed their style on the game but the All Blacks still had enough class to win despite being out of their comfort zone, and Foster had only praise for the Boks’ approach and intensity.
“You can talk about pressure and about being strangled,” Foster said. “We spoke a lot about the way the South Africans would play against us. It’s one thing to dismiss it as boring, which a lot of people do, but I used the words ruthless and clinical and they’re very good at it.
“We ran out of time in many situations and that put our skill set under pressure so it’s a real learning curve for us in that space, particularly some of our backs. I felt our timing was a bit off because of the pressure we were put under.
“Isn’t it good to learn that lesson and have a win next to your name? We’re really excited by not folding. We didn’t get too flustered, we kept playing. I’m overall happy and can’t wait for next week now.”
The All Blacks contributed to a dour struggle by conceding 23 turnovers in an uncharacteristically sloppy display with the ball and their rolling maul was held back by the Boks.
“The performance wasn’t really what we wanted but we were forced in a lot of areas by their pressure. That was a game we expected to come up against,” Foster said.
“I loved our attitude even when things weren’t going well. We wanted to play. We showed a determination to keep fighting and got there in the end.
“We made more errors than what we wanted to. Some of our handling wasn’t at the level it needed to be. There’s a combination of players playing South Africa for the first time; the pressure they put us under and you have to execute at the top level.
“It’s a nice little message for us. Our wings had a real examination. Some things went their way but a few things didn’t.”
In the end it took a huge play from rookie centre Quinn Tupaea to force a penalty which Jordie Barrett nervelessly booted from 40m out and near the left hand touchline.
“It’s really significant for us,” said Foster.
“We knew it was a big game. We’ve had a bit of an edge over them recently but you saw how fine the margins are. Hats off to Jordie – that was a tough kick. Our bench came on really well. Quinn did outstandingly well to win that turnover.
“Jordie will be the guy who won the 100th so good on him.”