DURBAN – Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus was quick to downplay his team’s performance in whacking Italy out of the park on Friday but in reality the Boks have given the rest of the tournament a reminder that they will be serious contenders for the Webb Ellis Cup.
It will be pointed out that the Italians played the second half with 14 men, a period in which the Boks scored 32 unanswered points, but countering this is the fact that from early in the game there were uncontested scrums because both Italians tighthead props went off (allegedly) injured, thus negating a huge South African advantage — the Boks had been monstering the Italian pack in the scrums.
The departure of the starting Italian tighthead followed shortly by his replacement in the first ten minutes of the game, smacked of a premeditated ruse to neutralise the expected Bok advantage up front.
For a start, the substitute tighthead went down clutching his stomach, which was then iced, but next thing he was going off for a concussion assessment — from which he did not return. Pull the other leg…
Erasmus, speaking after the game, said he was pleased with aspects of his team’s performance but added: “That was not good enough for us to win the World Cup. We were fantastic in patches but we would be kidding ourselves if we thought that we are currently good enough to go all the way. We aren’t.”
The Boks scored seven tries to zip, two of them going to the ever-phenomenal Cheslin Kolbe, the Man of the Match and pound for pound surely the best player in Japan.
He was again astonishing in his finishing, his gutsy defence and his aerial skills which on one occasion saw him pluck the ball out of the air in a contest with the great Sergio Parisse, who looked perplexed to lose out to a stocky wing almost two feet shorter than him.
Kolbe made 15 carries, scored two tries, made 224m for his team and made 11 tackles. He is walking on water at this World Cup and his coach’s heart would have been his mouth when the 25-year-old rolled an ankle two minutes from time and hobbled off.
Kolbe, though, said that his ankle was “not too bad”, and when asked about his wizardry with ball in hand, he said: “I love getting the ball, and when I have it, my body takes over … I don’t give it any thought!”
Quite obviously Kolbe will be given maximum time to recover for the quarter-finals in 15 days’ time, on the weekend of the 19th. This talk of the play-offs is providing, of course, the Boks do not lose to Canada on Tuesday in their final Pool B game. Surely this is impossible against the whipping boys of the tournament?
Each team has their turn of a short turnaround week, and now it is the turn of the South Africans. It will be up to Schalk Brits’ dirt-trackers to deal with the Canadians and then the squad will have 10 days to prepare for the quarter-finals.
Is there any chance of the Boks taking the Canadians lightly?
“No chance whatsoever,” said Erasmus. “We have been in play-off mode for a while now. We have got past Italy and now our whole campaign rests on the Canada game. It is another knock-out game and that is how we will approach it.”
Results and scorers
South Africa (17) 49
Italy (3) 3
Tries: Cheslin Kolbe (2), Bongi Mbonambi, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, RG Snyman, Malcolm Marx.
Conversions: Handre Pollard (4). Penalties: Pollard (2).
Penalty: Tommaso Allan.
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