Another chapter writes itself into All Blacks-Springboks folklore

YOKOHAMA, Japan -- How do you explain that? How do you describe the game of rugby that was played on Saturday at International Stadium Yokohama? Where would you start?

With Richie Mo'unga's perfect cross-kicks, the audacity of Beauden Barrett, the tireless efforts of Ardie Savea or the head-spinning footwork of pocket-rocket Cheslin Kolbe?

Billed as arguably the biggest pool match in Rugby World Cup history, fans across the globe had prepared themselves for something special when the All Blacks and Springboks ran out to wrap up an already thrilling second day at the tournament. But no one could have expected the sheer brilliance, unwavering brutality and willingness to chance the arm seldom seen at the showpiece event that followed.

Take Barrett's counterattack that started 5 metres inside his own goal, for example. We've come to expect that kind of play from the two-time Player of the Year. But in this game? On this stage? Ooft.

The match finished 23-13 to New Zealand on a serene Japanese night, though it won't be a surprise to see these two sides meet again in the final. Disappointed fans will be in short supply should that transpire, too.

"The defence of both sides was very staunch, and you had to take the chances you were given," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "It was hard early in the game. Our set-piece wasn't as nice as it could have been, and therefore you can't have a platform to strike off. The boys [Mo'unga and Barrett]) adjusted OK, and they got to be a bit more fluid with it."

After a poor first half in which they looked devoid of ideas and were exposed by the likes of Barrett, Sevu Reece and Anton Lienert-Brown, the Springboks sprang to life on the back of Kolbe's dazzling footwork and a cheeky run through the middle of the ruck from Pieter-Steph du Toit.

When Pollard added a drop goal from the pocket to go with his first-half penalty, the All Blacks' halftime lead of 14 points had been cut to four. But the two-time defending world champions were able to steady behind penalty goals to both Mo'unga and Barrett, and from there, they closed out a famous win.

The first half was largely split into two quarters. While the Springboks enjoyed extended runs of possession, they never really looked like breaking down their opponents' defensive line. They had forced the All Blacks into some handling errors, but the world champions quickly recovered to avoid any serious trouble.

The South Africans' kicking game and rush defence, which had been so successful against New Zealand the past two seasons, started to lose its effectiveness, and a kickable penalty goal from Pollard that hit the posts certainly didn't help.

Steve Hansen's men worked out a way to expose their opponents' defensive tactic, too. The use of flatter, more direct cross-kicks worked perfectly and allowed Reece to create the game's first try.

When the winger collected Mo'unga's kick pass just after the 20-minute mark, he quickly stood up Makazole Mapimpi and tore down the touchline. Reece then found a supporting Aaron Smith, who in turn offloaded to Savea, the back-rower adding the metres through contact that seemingly only he can.

One phase later, Barrett hit the accelerator himself to make a half-bust and find winger George Bridge on his hip for the five-pointer.

Then came the double-strike.

A touch of NBA from Dane Coles created space for Anton Lienert-Brown to charge back inside, and as the centre scooted clear through to the backfield, his support arrived in the form of Scott Barrett, who rumbled away to score untouched. It was just plain ruthless from the world champions.

There appeared to be no way back for the Boks at that point, and it proved too great of a challenge. But there won't be a South African in the stadium nor back home in the Republic who won't be proud of the fightback that followed.

The passage of play before du Toit's try underlined that, for which Kolbe was the instigator.

The Boks winger had threatened during the first half, but nothing like the run we were about to see in the second: a beautifully weaving worm that turned Mo'unga inside out twice. Still, the All Blacks No. 10 was able to scramble and make the tackle, and it was at that point that Kolbe thrust the ball back infield, only for it to be scooped up by Barrett, who in turn launched an audacious counter from inside his own goal line.

Just as it appeared the All Blacks were about to tear down field, du Toit somehow got his hands up to intercept a pass and win possession back for the Boks.

A couple of powerful charges from Eben Etzebeth and Steve Kitshoff later, and du Toit took his opportunity to run straight through the middle of the ruck and swan dive over for the momentum-changing try.

But the All Blacks held on.

"We fought our way back, but we just couldn't convert [our chances] inside their 22," Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus said. "And if you concede 10 penalties against them, they will kick you all over the place."

Some might grumble about the 9-4 penalty count that went the way of New Zealand as referee Jerome Garces failed to heed the advice Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus had sent his way in the buildup. But such was the pace of this game, particularly in its middle quarters, that it would be hard to pick too many holes in the Frenchman's performance.

There were also 35 missed tackles from the Boks, as opposed to just 18 from their opponents.

No, this game must be remembered as one of the all-time great World Cup clashes, one that adds another chapter to an All Blacks-Springboks rivalry that continues to deliver and might yet feature another chapter on Nov. 2 in Yokohama.

We should be so lucky -- the neutrals, anyway. It pains to think how anyone with an emotional interest in this match wasn't reaching for the heart defibrillator at multiple points throughout.

It was that good.