All Blacks down Springboks in thriller, all eyes on Ireland’s opener

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South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe tackles Beauden Barrett during his side’s defeat to the All Blacks in Yokohama. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty

South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe tackles Beauden Barrett during his side’s defeat to the All Blacks in Yokohama. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty

It was billed as the fixture of the pool stages and it didn’t disappoint - New Zealand and South Africa producing a brutal, brilliant, absorbing 80 minutes of rugby in Yokohama. And the defending champions came out on top, riding an early Springboks onslaught before landing a string of devastating blows to run out convincing 23-13 winners. South Africa raced out of the blocks and took an early three-point lead through the boot of Handrè Pollard but couldn’t make their dominance count, with two stunning scores from George Bridge and Scott Barrett giving the Kiwis a 17-3 lead at half-time. Rassie Erasmus’s side rallied after the break, closing the gap with a Pieter-Steph du Toit try and a fine Pollard drop goal - but the world champions had the nous to shut the game down in the closing stages. Gerry Thornley was in Yokohama to witness a thrilling spectacle - he writes: “Rumours of the champions impending demise may have proved premature. South Africa’s reinvention and rejuvenation under Rassie Erasmus ensured they arrived in Japan ahead of New Zealand and looking more settled after going toe-to-toe with them over their last three meetings. Whereupon, the All Blacks put the Boks back in their box.” Meanwhile Keith Duggan, also in Yokohama, saw Steve Hansen’s side display their brutal best. He writes: “Here, now, in full five dimensional scope, were the world champions. In eight minutes, South Africa’s control on the game had completely vanished and they found themselves confronted with the darkest proposition in international rugby: a New Zealand team having fun against them.”

New Zealand’s victory followed another thriller as France edged Argentina 23-21, in a match perhaps devoid of the same quality but no less enjoyable. Les Bleus rolled back the years to race into a 20-3 half-time lead before Los Pumas fought back in the second, with a Camille Lopez drop goal proving the difference. Gavin Cummiskey was in Tokyo to soak up the madness, he writes: “It certainly wasn’t discipline that inched France towards a World Cup quarter-final. Or fitness. Nor was it the defensive might that will be needed to eventually win this tournament. Their overall performance was wrapped in cliché; beautiful, awful and typically French. Jacques Brunel’s charges thrilled then tortured their followers with a first half display that yielded tries from Gael Fickou and the magnificent Toulouse scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, before sheer Argentinean guts fell just short of one of rugby’s greatest ever comebacks.”

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