1 October 2007
South Africa completed an unbeaten run through Pool A at the Rugby World Cup on Sunday when they outplayed the feisty United States Eagles 64-15, running in nine tries to two.
Thanks to Fiji’s shocking 38-34 victory over Wales on Saturday, the Boks will tackle their third Pacific Island opponent of the tournament in the quarterfinals in Marseille on 7 October.
SA captain John Smit, a teammate of Botha’s with the Sharks, felt the loss of the tighthead would have a disruptive effect on South Africa, coming as it did some way into the tournament. He paid tribute to Botha, saying he not only makes an impact in the tight phases, but also in his work around the field.
Cheetahs’ front-rower Jannie du Plessis has been called up to replace Botha and will join his brother, Bismarck, in the Bok squad.
The Americans fought hard against South Africa and the Boks led the match only 24-10 at halftime. However, their advantage in possession and territory truly bore fruit in the second half as Smit and co managed a further 40 points whilst conceding only five.
The 49-point margin of defeat was the biggest loss yet suffered by the USA at any Rugby World Cup.
South Africa took control from the kick off and never looked in danger of losing the contest despite a wholehearted effort from the plucky American team that included three South African-born players. It certainly wasn’t a top class performance, but it was very effective and included some superb tries.
Interestingly, Argentina also won on Sunday, outplaying Ireland 30-15 to finish top of Pool D. The Pumas produced a very efficient and powerful performance to join New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa as pool winners, thus increasing the likelihood of a first ever all-southern hemisphere semi-final line-up.
While South Africa plays the Fijians, Argentina tackles Scotland, New Zealand plays France, and Australia goes up against England. The most likely outcomes of those matches, based on the form shown so far by the eight teams, is victories all round for the southern hemisphere.
And after that? Well, then, matters become more interesting.
In Montpellier, it took South Africa nine minutes to get on the board. The Springboks’ first points came from a try by Schalk Burger and the star flanker needed to show good hands to score the five-pointer.
After SA had made decent ground and swept into the Americans’ 22-metre area, the ball was moved to the right. A poor pass went to ground before it reached its intended recipient but Burger, flying through at speed, scooped it up beautifully before crashing through two attempted tackles to score.
The reliable Percy Montgomery added the extras to put South Africa into a 7-0 lead.
SA continued to exert pressure on the USA, especially in the lineouts where the USA was having massive problems, with the Boks either robbing the opposition or disrupting their throw-ins.
Double figure lead
After 17 minutes, the pressure told once more as Montgomery landed a penalty to put South Africa’s lead into double figures at 10-0.
Three minutes later, however, US captain Mike Hercus closed the gap to seven points by landing a penalty.
After 23 minutes the Americans were reduced to 14 men when flank Todd Clever was sent off for a third professional foul as he fought to stem the attacking Bok tide.
While he was off, the Eagles were made to pay for his indiscretion as SA scored through Francois Steyn. Wikus van Heerden won a turnover inside the American 22-metre area and the ball was quickly passed to the backline. Steyn, receiving the ball, jinked inside twice before straightening up and zipping through to dot down next to the uprights.
Montgomery added the conversion to put South Africa 17-3 ahead.
With five minutes left in the half, Bryan Habana scored wide on the left after the Springboks moved the ball smartly down the backline from a lineout.
The conversion attempt went wide.
Then, with South Africa pushing for a bonus point try just before the break, and with men lined up to take the pass, Clever, back on the field after his time in the sin bin, intercepted and raced up the field.
The ball was moved to the inside before a long pass out to the right found Zimbabwean-born winger Takudzwa Ngwenya. He had space to move in, both to the right and the left. Habana showed him the outside gap and Ngwenya, after slowing the Bok winger up with some nifty footwork, accelerated to the outside to round Habana and score under the posts.
Hercus knocked over the conversion to give the Americans a timely boost just before halftime.
Shortly after the restart, Habana became South Africa’s second leading try scorer of all time behind Joost van der Westhuizen when he rounded off another flowing backline move in the left-hand corner.
Again, Montgomery missed with his conversion attempt from the left touchline, leaving the Springboks 29-10 ahead.
Francois Steyn then had a long-range shot at goal from just inside his own half. His effort had more than enough distance on it, but was slightly wide.
Ten minutes into the second stanza, Juan Smith made some hard yards before popping the ball into the hands of the charging CJ van der Linde. Showing a nice turn of speed, the huge prop carried two men over with him as he crashed over the tryline.
This time Montgomery’s conversion was accurate, opening up the gap between the two teams to 26 points at 36-10.
Shortly afterwards, after the Americans had found touch deep in the South African 22-metre area, scrumhalf Fourie du Preez took a quick throw-in to Francois Steyn. The centre tried to lift his arms above an attempted tackle, but caught his elbow on the tackler’s head and coughed the ball up.
The Eagles first went right, then moved the ball down the backline, to the left, where Chris Wyles powered through two tackles to score.
Hercus was wide right with his conversion attempt. South Africa led 36-15.
Du Preez was next on the scoreboard for South Africa, selling a dummy and then accelerating through a huge hole that opened up for him to score right next to the posts.
The conversion presented no problems for Montgomery and South Africa moved up to 43 points, the same number they scored against the Americans in the last meeting between the two teams in 2001.
Slick backline move
Just past the hour mark, a slick backline move that involved Butch James and JP Pietersen (on for Habana who had gone off with a cut to his face) opened up space on the right. The Americans raced across to cover the pass out wide, but Jaque Fourie summed the situation up perfectly and sold a dummy before cruising through for a try.
Montgomery added another conversion to take South Africa past the 50-point mark.
Fourie then equalled Habana’s brace of tries when he broke through for the Springboks’ eighth try after 73 minutes.
With Montgomery having been substituted as the entire South African bench was given a run, James took over the kicking duties and kicked the conversion to put SA 57-15 ahead.
Top of the list
Finally, with three minutes remaining, a nice interchange of passing between Pietersen and Ruan Pienaar set Smith up for a well deserved try. The flanker dotted down for the third time in the tournament, lifting him into a tie at the top of the list for try scorers amongst forwards.
James’ conversion sealed a 64-15 win that the Boks had to work hard for despite the 49-point gap between the two sides.
Springbok coach Jake White declared himself “very pleased” with the win, saying the players achieved what they had set out to do, maintaining a sound structure and decent continuity in their game.
He added that Boks will go into their quarterfinal clash against Fiji with confidence after winning all four of their pool matches.