Not Boks’ best, but it’s a win

2011-10-01 00:00

THE Springboks, battered and bruised on the ball and off, held their discipline to grind out a 13-5 Rugby World Cup win over Samoa at North Habour in Auckland yesterday.

The unbeaten Boks have now nailed down the Pool of Death and are almost certain to meet Australia in the quarter-finals next weekend. They have scored 166 points and conceded 24 (and only two tries) in their four games.

Springbok lineout guru and caretaker captain Victor Matfield, who was captain for the night, said he was delighted the South Africans held their discipline in a torrid contest and in the face of the passionate Samoans.

“We want to focus on the ball in games and not get too involved in all that crap,” Matfield said of the off-the-ball incidents.

Matfield’s lineout dominance was a feature of the first half when the Springboks placed the Samoans under pressure at the set pieces.

With Heinrich Brussow, Bismarck du Plessis and Schalk Burger also fiercely competitive at the breakdowns, the Samoans battled to create any attacking flow and the Boks, although creating few scoring opportunities of their own, were comfortably ahead 13-0 at the break.

But the mood of the contest changed after the break as the Samoans turned with the wind and their scrum and lineout settled. Indeed they had nearly 60% possession and territory but the Springboks, forced to make twice as many tackles as the islanders, kept their discipline.

The Boks again missed a number of tackles — over 20 in the second half — but their scrambling defence was impressive with Burger clattering into tackle after tackle.

Tactically, the Boks were also vulnerable, kicking far too often into the second-half wind — instead of keeping the ball in hand — and then having to defend in their own half for long periods as a result.

Coach Peter de Villiers said that the Samoans had provided the Boks with ideal preparation for the quarter-finals though the bruised players would surely have enjoyed a softer ride.

Wing Bryan Habana, after a lively first half and a try, left the field with a bruised thigh, Danie Rossouw had treatment to a cut, and replacement Francois Hougaard did not stay long before being knocked silly in making a tackle.

Replacement hooker John Smit also came and went. He was on the field for just two minutes in the final quarter before being harshly yellow-carded for deliberately knocking down a pass, an action deemed more serious by the officials than knocking down players off the ball.

“We always knew they would be physical and confrontational so for us this game has been brilliant,” said De Villiers. “The boys made the right decisions on the field.

“The mood in the change-room is good and the guys knew that they had to put their bodies on the line for our country.

“I know that our medical staff will work around the clock again”, adding that no team will be as physical as the Samoans at this year’s World Cup.

“It was a tough game,” said hooker Bismarck du Plessis. “But we are going into the play-offs and that is the most important thing.”

The Bok lineout and scrum were impressive in the first half while Brussow, Burger, brave fullback Pat Lambie — in fielding kicks and making tackles — Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen were prominent in this bruising win. But, generally, it was not a team performance which will keep the Wallabies awake at night.

The Boks have an eight-day break before the Australian quarter-final in Wellington and Matfield admitted there is work to be done.

“Our defence was good tonight and we kept the Samoans out for most of the time. But Australia provide a completely different challenge. They play a different style and run different lines that have created problems for us in the past,” he said.

“But we know what we have to do and we will be up for it. We believe in our systems and will work hard. We are looking forward to the challenge.”

In the final analysis, the Springboks should have made more of their first-half superiority yesterday, and they should not have allowed the Samoans to play nearly all the rugby in the second. But, as they say in the classics, a win’s a win, old pal.

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