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08 Oct 2015 00:00
South African winger Bryan Habana equalled Jonah Lomu's record of 15 Rugby World tries. (AFP)
It has been apparent for a while that South Africa were going to top their pool, despite the mind-blowing uncertainty thrown up by the opening-round defeat to Japan. Sure enough, they duly confirmed as much, completing their pool fixtures with the kind of unseemly route of a lesser team the World Cup can’t hope to rid itself of quite yet.
Bryan Habana was the principal beneficiary, registering a hat-trick in the first 20 minutes of the second half to draw level with Jonah Lomu’s record of 15 World Cup tries.
Otherwise there was little by which this match might be remembered, despite another massive crowd at a famous stadium. The USA fielded what was essentially a second XV and were hopelessly overpowered.
South Africa were brutal with them in defence, and if the Springboks’ precision in attack was less than impressive it hardly had to be.
This match formed part of a tight turnaround for both teams, the Springboks fielding much the same side as beat Scotland four days earlier, but the Americans inevitably prioritising their final pool match against Japan four days hence. Only three players remained from their previous game, against Scotland 10 days earlier.
Their brief was to tackle and tackle again and snatch whatever they could in between. Such a plan was compromised by two missed penalties within the first quarter of an hour, and a horrible lack of communication in defence in the seventh minute, when Damian de Allende was able to coast unmolested through the thick of their midfield to the posts for try No1.
As suspected, the South Africa scrum was far too powerful. Thankfully, Pascal Gaüzère remained sensible in the face of the annihilation, resisting the temptation to reach for his pocket, as a strict interpretation of World Rugby’s unforgiving – and unreasonable – laws in this department might have required. He settled for just the penalty try, when for the third time running the American scrum capitulated at a five-metre scrum just shy of the hour.
That score of 14-0 was how the score remained at half-time, which was a fairly remarkable achievement by the USA. Or was it more an indictment of South Africa’s skills in attack? The power advantage they enjoyed was not in question, and occasionally De Allende, Handré Pollard and/or Willie le Roux found a little space to run into, but the finishing left a lot to be desired, not that the USA’s scramble defence –Brett Thompson particularly impressive in that regard – should be dismissed as without influence.
South Africa’s frustrations reached their pitch just before the break, when Duane Vermeulen of all people became the latest to spill the ball with the line in his sights. Then Fourie du Preez – of all people – tapped the penalty awarded at that point and lobbed out a hopeful pass out wide, which Blaine Scully intercepted to lift the siege.
Not for long. In the first minute of the second half, Habana was on to Du Preez’s chip ahead for his first, and six minutes later Bismarck du Plessis notched up the bonus point with South Africa’s fourth, blasting over from close range. More power told for South Africa’s fifth, Francois Louw finishing off a lineout and drive before Pollard’s conversion of the evening made it 33-0 in the 53rd minute.
The USA were now starting to look lost, and so the artistic merit of the Springbok tries improved. The excellent De Allende was clean through the American defence again, off a lineout, to lay on Habana’s second, a mere two minutes before the latter drew level him with Lomu when the ball popped loose for him from a maul after Vermeulen’s break. Three further tries followed for the Springboks in the final quarter, another lineout and drive for Louw, a handsome score for Jesse Kriel on the switch off Morné Steyn and a breakaway try at the death for Lwazi Mvovo, despite a more than questionable grounding.
So South Africa march on to Twickenham now for a quarter-final on Saturday week against the loser of the match between Wales and Australia. It would appear that any talk of their demise was premature – certainly if their power quotient was ever in doubt. Talk of their winning the tournament, though, might be a touch premature too. There is plenty for them to tighten up if that is to happen, but they’re in good company there. Only a fool would rule it out. – © Guardian News & Media 2015
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