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All Blacks still best but South Africa find chink in armour, claims Ian McGeechan

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Not many people saw that result in Wellington coming yesterday. I know I didn't. The All Blacks had won 15 consecutive Rugby Championship fixtures heading into that clash with the Springboks, going two years undefeated in the competition.

At home their record is even more impressive. New Zealand have been more or less unbeatable on home soil for a decade now. If you exclude that dramatic 24-21 defeat by the British & Irish Lions last summer, the All Blacks had not lost any Tests in New Zealand since being beaten 32-29 by South Africa in Hamilton way back in 2009.

South Africa's 36-34 win was a timely reminder, then - almost exactly a year out from the next World Cup - that everyone is beatable.

New Zealand are still far and away the best team in the world. One defeat does not change that. Especially when the All Blacks scored six tries to South Africa's five (a further reminder, incidentally, of the general direction in which rugby is headed).

On another day - had Beauden Barrett been more accurate from the tee, had they not thrown those two interceptions, had they gone for a drop goal rather than a try at the end - they might well have won again.

But what South Africa's win does prove is that when you match them physically, as the Boks did magnificently, putting in a huge defensive shift, the All Blacks are not immune to pressure. And for all their incredible try-scoring potential, they are perhaps not hugely experienced at winning in tight finishes.

The Lions showed last summer how you have to play New Zealand. Warren Gatland's team were caught out in the first Test so they had to change tactically. They wanted to be more direct and play with a big man such as Ben Te'o in midfield but they were beaten at the breakdown and struggled to cross the gain line.

They realised they had to play with clever players, not just physical ones, and the 9-10-12 combination of Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell in midfield in the second and third Tests meant Sean O'Brien and Jonathan Davies in particular could get across the gain line and put the Lions on the front foot.

You simply have to compete with New Zealand at the breakdown. It's easier said than done. They are incredibly quick to reorganise and reset for the next phase - maybe as much as three seconds quicker than any other team at getting into the next attacking shape. And once on the front foot, they stay there.

The All Blacks play at a pace others struggle to match. It is not error-free. But that doesn't matter. They know if they keep the pace up, 99 per cent of the time their opposition will not survive beyond an hour. South Africa did, because they remained competitive in the contact area throughout the game and had two half-backs who hounded their opposition. But they can be beaten.

South Africa's performance yesterday really reminded me of the Lions. They competed at the breakdown. They forced New Zealand into errors with the strength of their defence.

Their hits on first and second contact were outstanding. Some of their defensive sets on their own five-metre line - where New Zealand would expect to score - resulted in turnovers. The big momentum shifts went their way; coming back to lead at half-time, getting the first score in after the break.

The pressure told. New Zealand tried to force things, for example when Jordi Barrett tried a quick line-out, which Willie Le Roux intercepted for a score.

The result raises very interesting questions with 12 months remaining until Japan 2019. This could be a real step change for Rassie Erasmus' team, changing them as a group. They can really build from here.

For New Zealand there are question marks. Barrett is one of the most naturally gifted 10s rugby has ever seen. But his goal kicking is not of the calibre of Grant Fox, Andrew Mehrtens or Dan Carter. Big games can be decided by those kicks and Barrett's ability from the tee has to be a question mark for Steve Hansen.

As is New Zealand's tactical kicking, an area of the game which increases in importance in the final moments of tight matches.

New Zealand, for all their brilliance, are not all that used to winning these types of games. Most of the time, they go through the gears and have the match sewn up well before the end.

Their collective decision not to engineer a drop goal opportunity yesterday reminded me of the 2007 World Cup defeat by France.

Hansen will know if you're going to win these tight matches, you have to be able to control the key moments, particularly in the last 20 minutes with one score between the teams. That is when your tactical kicking and your goal kicking really matter.

That is what he will be drilling into his players.

New Zealand have some absolutely huge games coming up - in Pretoria in three weeks and at Twickenham and in Dublin later this autumn. It is going to be fascinating to see how they respond to this.


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