The Springboks opened their campaign in fine style, beating the All Blacks 26-10 at the Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit.
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi paid tribute to the team’s fans after the Boks’ record-breaking win over New Zealand in the opening Test of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship at the Mbombela Stadium on Saturday.
The Springboks’ 26-10 victory (halftime 10-3) was by the largest margin (16 points) since South Africa returned from international isolation in 1992. It is the second largest of all time.
The previous greatest win post-isolation was a 14-point victory (40-26) in Johannesburg in 2004. The largest Springbok victory of all time was a 17-0 victory in Durban in 1928.
Kolisi said: “I just don’t know how South African people do it.
“The way they turn up with everything that’s going on in our country. People who can still afford it, still come along and still full up the stadium for us and it means the world to us as a team.
“Running out and hearing people screaming like that it drives us as a team. That’s what Jacques [Nienaber] always reminds us: ‘it’s not about me’. If I make a mistake, I must keep on going because it’s about the people who are coming each and every time to watch us play.
“I hope we made them proud today, because they definitely got us going from the anthem onwards.”
The Boks scored two tries to one – from wing Kurt-Lee Arendse in the eighth minute and from replacement back Willie le Roux in the 80th – while Handre Pollard had a flawless day with the boot, kicking two conversions as well as three penalty goals and a drop goal for 16 of the points.
Nienaber said: “We spoke about it in the week and all we asked was to pitch up with intensity and try and be accurate in what we had planned, and I thought we did it well.”
However, the coach believes there is more to come: “I don’t think we’re the finished product yet.
“We did a good assessment after the Wales series. I think we have improved; I think we have built on stuff that we thought there wasn’t good growth in the Wales series. I think we are slowly really building our game, but I don’t think it is the finished product yet.”
Kolisi added that the result was only one step in a long campaign: “It feels good tonight, but we know the Championship is not done yet,” he said.
“We have five more games to go but the next important one is next week. But to win tonight in front of a crowd like that was very special.”
Nienaber had a special word for praise for hooker Malcolm Marx who was named Man of the Match on his 50th Test as a Springbok.
“I thought he was outstanding – and that’s Malcolm,” said Nienaber.
“He is the guy that exemplifies what a Springbok should be. He is a warrior; a guy who had to work hard to get where he is; he had to make the change from loose forward to hooker – so he really had to work hard to get where he is.
“I have worked with him since he was an Under-20 in 2014 and it is phenomenal to see what a guy he has become. This was a milestone game and hopefully it will prepare the road going forward for him for the next 50 test matches.”
South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-lee Arendse, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Francois De Klerk , 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Albertus Smith, 22 Jaden Hendrikse, 23 Willie le Roux.
New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 David Havili, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Samson Taukei’aho, 1 George Bower.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Quinn Tupaea.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Luke Pearce (England) & Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Brett Cronan (Asustralia)