The under-fire Springboks saw off a tough early challenge from the Fijians to record a comprehensive 49-3 victory in Wellington. STYLI CHARALAMBOUS reviews phase two of Operation World Cup Defence.
A team criticised for squeaking home against Wales last week, the Boks would have been intent on sending out a message to their critics and upcoming opponents. While the end result would have satisfied the Bok team, those never-happy critics would have been muttering profanities for the first 20minutes of this physical encounter. In a period where the Fijians more than held their own, the Boks suffered a similar fate to that of last week, when much of their time was spent without the ball.
Bar a few heart-in-the-mouth moments, the Bok defence, led by Jacque Fourie was resolute and will show a clean sheet for the match. The number of missed tackles (26) continues to be a problem area for the Boks and will stand out as the most pressing issue for the defending champions at team meetings, ahead of their next game. The first quarter of the match was pretty even with South Africa taking the lead through a monster Francois Steyn penalty that was cancelled out by what would be the solitary score for Fiji, a Seremaia Bai penalty.
Photo: Fiji players perform the Cibi before their Rugby World Cup Pool D match against South Africa Springboks at Wellington Regional Stadium in Wellington September 17, 2011. REUTERS/Stu Forster
A couple of injury enforced selections saw new key combinations take the field for South Africa, although not for the first time. Danie Roussouw and Bakkies Botha in the second row combined to form another formidable Blue Bulls locking combination while Francois Steyn and Jacque Fourie reunited in the midfield for the first time since their victorious World Cup campaign in 2007. Rossouw, playing the senior role in a match Botha was never likely to see out 80 minutes, adequately marshalled the line-outs in Victor Matfield’s absence and was impressive on attack, gaining 127 meters in some bullocking runs and the man-of-the-match award. The midfield combination looked solid on defence and Fourie, in particularl, caused the South Sea Islanders untold problems all evening, breaking the gain line on several occasions.
After the Springboks had soaked up the early efforts of the Fijians, a period of sustained pressure followed that would set up the first of the evening’s six tries for the Boks. Prop Gurthro Steenkamp bulldozed over in the corner to provide some breathing space with Morné Steyn adding the difficult conversion to put the Boks 10-3 up. From that point on the Boks slowly squeezed their opponents out of the game as their forwards gained the ascendency that allowed the backs to play with a bit more freedom. For the first time in what has seemed like ages, the interplay between forwards and backs worked with deft passes and angled runs now added to the repertoire.
With further tries came increased confidence as the team refused to let up on the pressure, evidenced by the two scrums that were won against the head. For the remainder of the match the Boks would score at regular intervals as they manufactured a thorough domination of this Test match. John Smit, in a record-equalling 108th Test match, along with the rest of his team, deserve the plaudits for a fine performance after some rough treatment from the media since the hair-raising squeaker over Wales.
Photo: South Africa Springboks' Danie Rossouw scores a try during their Rugby World Cup Pool D match against Fiji at Wellington Regional Stadium in Wellington September 17, 2011. REUTERS/David Gray
But the match was not without additional worries to accompany the missed-tackle count. The breakdown has turned into a bigger lottery than the front-row collision area, with the Boks seemingly receiving a stricter interpretation of the laws than their opponents. Fourie du Preez continues to disappoint at scrumhalf and understudy Ruan Pienaar seems to have left his talents and awareness of the game in Ireland. It will be interesting to see if Francois Hougaard starts against Namibia ahead of Pienaar and if so, whether a great performance against the minnows will be enough to earn him a starting berth at either scrumhalf or wing.
With Pierre Spies only slightly less anonymous than last week and Schalk Burger trying to break through the opposition by running backwards, Heinrich Brüssow was left to fight a lone battle at the turnover, where for much of the match the Fijians had evenly contested with the South Africans. The Boks first two WC opponents seem to be committing more players to the breakdown which has resulted in them securing position too easily and frequently than fans would like. Regardless of the score, the possession and territorial stats for the match only show Springbok dominance in the last 10 minutes of the game, with the overall ratios even-Stevens.
The score will certainly make other hopeful nations sit up and take notice of this much-improved Bok performance against a highly rated Fijian team. While there is still a huge amount of work to do ahead of the Samoan encounter, the Boks would be foolish to look further ahead than the pool stages or get complacent about their remaining opponents. The next two matches will be key for the Springboks in how the rest of the tournament unfolds. Giving the untested members of the squad much-needed game time against Namibia and how, or if, they overcome the challenge of Samoans will be crucial elements of just far this team can progress at RWC 2011. As the Aussies have found out against Ireland, there are no easy matches in the World Cup, so for the Boks to end up on the right side of such an emphatic victory, they deserve to take a bow. DM
For South Africa:
- Tries: Steenkamp, Fourie, F. Steyn, M. Steyn, Mtawarira, Rossouw
- Conv: M. Steyn (5)
- Pens: F. Steyn, M. Steyn
- Pens: Bai
South Africa: 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Odwa Ndungane, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 François Louw, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 François Hougaard, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Juan de Jongh.
Fiji: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Gaby Lovobalavu, 12 Seremaia Bai, 11 Naipolioni Nalaga, 10 Waisea Sedre Luveniyali, 9 Neemia Kenatale, 8 Sakiusa Matadigo, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Dominiko Maiwiriwiri Waqaniburotu, 5 Wame Lewaravu, 4 Leone Nakarawa, 3 Deacon Manu (c), 2 Sunia Koto, 1 Campese Ma'afu.
Replacements: 16 Talemaitoga Dautu Tuapati, 17 Waisea Nailago, 18 Netani Edward Talei, 19 Sisa Koyamaibole, 20 Vitori Tomu Buatava, 21 Nicky Little, 22 Ravai Fatiaki.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Main photo: South Africa Springboks' Gurthro Steenkamp (2nd R) walks back to his half after scoring a try during their Rugby World Cup Pool D match against Fiji at Wellington Regional Stadium in Wellington September 17, 2011. REUTERS/David Gray