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All Blacks, Springboks coy on card talk

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Sportal.co.nz     15 Sep 2013     Getty Images

It was supposed to be the biggest match of the year. The next chapter of a fierce rivalry between two rugby powerhouses. And around 48,000 fans crammed into Eden Park to find out just how good this Springboks side was after nine straight Test wins.

What they got was 30 minutes of the stuff that attracts the masses to Test matches and almost an hour of the lopsided contests that spring up each time a referee goes overkill with the plastic strips in his pocket.

Bismarck du Plessis felt the full force of Romain Poite's authority and had yellow waved in his face twice to become the first Springbok ejected from an All Blacks game in 16 years.

"I know there's going to be lots of questions about yellow cards," said Hansen.

"I'll just knock that on the head and say that in an intense battle like that you're going to get moments and the referees made decisions, and he's got to make them in that moment."

Quade Cooper will refute his status as public enemy No.1 when he sits down to watch replays of the treatment Du Plessiss got when marched off the field.

Striking with the elbow is banned in most professional combat sports, which is why no one will argue he was guilty of dangerous play when he rocketed into Liam Messam's neck.

However, that offence wouldn't have had the same impact on the overall result if it wasn't for the decision Poite made after Dan Carter was belted to the turf in a ball-and-all tackle.

Carter's subsequent exit from play only added to the drama that started with an all-in scuffle. Many will wonder what effect it had on what happened next.

Hansen let the question marks linger over that ruling but said calls to send Ma'a Nonu and stand-in captain Kieran Read for a breather were on the mark.

"Perhaps Bismarck may have been a bit unlucky with Dan's yellow card but he [Poite] probably got the other ones right," Hansen said.

South African coach Heyenke Meyer also played a straight bat towards questions regarding match officials and recited the 'no excuses' script perfectly.

"I truly believe that our guys are well educated so we've got to say the ref is always right," was the best he could do for anyone expecting an all out assault.

Captain Jean de Villiers provided a player's perspective of how difficult the challenge had become after they were down to 14 men.

Their game plan revolved a lot around the tight five and set piece. If Du Plessis' try from a rolling maul was anything to go by, it would be fair to say the Boks possessed an edge in that department.

"We haven't won here in almost 80 years, so trying to do it with 14 men, it's not really going to happen," De Villiers said.

"It did take a bit of the spectacle away but then again it is what it is."

The All Blacks will focus on the positives, and Hansen was quick to point out that there were quite a few.

In just his 10th Test, Beauden Barrett stepped up to plate and grabbed hold of the game when emotions were high and players went searching for collisions.

Sam Cane held his own in the trenches and he's even got the stitches to prove it.

"I'd really hate to think this Test is remembered for that, because I think there was a whole lot of other stuff that made it a memorable Test match," Hansen added.

South Africa regroup before facing the Wallabies in two weeks, while the All Blacks travel to La Plata where their bodies will take another battering.

The sides will then locks horns again for what should be the deciding match of the Investec Rugby Championship on October 6.

Ellis Park holds many fears for the All Blacks, who have lost their last two games there including the 40-26 thrashing that ended the Test careers of Andrew Merhtens and Kees Meeuws.

"We let our country down tonight but the beauty is we've got two games left to rectify that," added De Villiers.

"We'll take this one on the chin, we realise still quite a way from competing with the best, and hopefully learn from this game."