In the build-up to the Rugby World Cup, we dubbed Pool D the “Physio’s Pool of Pain”. On Friday, the Boks and Samoans proved us right as the South Africans battled to a 13-5 win at Auckland’s North Harbour stadium. By STYLI CHARALAMBOUS.
When Test matches are tough and tight, they tend to disappoint on the entertainment front, often characterised by dull tactics. But an enthusiastic Auckland crowd was treated to the match of the tournament, that at one stage mimicked a Libyan warzone complete with medics dodging incoming fire.
Past results between these two teams, in six previous encounters, have showed just how easily the Boks have dominated Samoa. At an average score of 53-12, with Chester Williams and Bryan Habana both having scored four tries in a RWC match against them, the Samoans were looking to rewrite the history books. However, one element they never looked liked changing was their physical approach to the game.
South Pacific Islanders, and Samoa in particular, seem to have a predisposition in their game plan to really rough up the Boks, in the hope of provoking yellow-card offences. Given the Boks well-documented history of ill discipline, it’s hardly a surprising tactic, but if the Samoans backed their skills instead of their underhanded tactics, the score could have been very different.
In a match from which the Samoans needed a bonus point to stay in the hunt in the quarterfinals, the game started off at a frenetic pace that never seemed to wane. The Boks dominated the opening encounters earning a penalty in the fifth minute that saw a Francois Steyn attempt from 55m, hit the crossbar. The South Africans looked comfortable with ball in hand and will be pleased with the return to form of several under-fire players. Fourie du Preez played like he did when he had a full head of hair and Bryan Habana’s hard work paid off with the Bok’s only try of the match, after just eight minutes.
The try was set up by a lineout close to the Samoan line that saw the ball move quickly through the line, courtesy of slick skills by Schalk Burger, for Bismarck du Plessis to offload to Habana. Morné Steyn landed a difficult conversion to put the Boks 7-0 and importantly, in a position of ascendency early on.
The Boks played with the wind behind them in the first half, and dictated much of the play. The scrum set-piece needle gauge leant towards the Boks, even as the Samoan pack heavily outweighed the Africans. Their dominance led to a monster penalty kick, landed by Francois Steyn, 5m in from touch and just under 60m out, to put the Boks 10-0 ahead. Steyn has turned the miracles of long-distance penalty kicks into somewhat of an art form that crowds have come to appreciate. A Morné Steyn penalty two minutes later saw the Boks looking comfortable at 13 – 0 up, with 25mins played.
While the Samoans managed to put together a few attacking moves of their own, they never quite looked like breaking the solid Bok defence that had gone more than 100 minutes of World Cup rugby without conceding a point. The only time the men in Pacific blue jerseys threatened the line was seconds before the half-time whistle with a break by scrumhalf Kahn Fotuali’i that ended when the ball bounced off referee Nigel Owens’ foot that signalled a scrum and the halftime whistle, with South Africa 13 – 0 to the good.
Following their performance in the first half, most Bok fans would have been expecting the Samoan efforts to taper off, given their previous match against Wales was played just four days ago. If anything it was the Boks that looked slightly fatigued as the first 20 minutes of the second half maintained the rapid tempo that enthralled viewers.
Morné Steyn, in particular, seemed to have left his rugby nous in the change room, as the Samoans challenge gained impetus with the wind and the crowd now behind them. The Boks were forced to make tackle after tackle, and Samoan winger David Lemi dancing through the Bok defensive line like a modern-day Fred Astaire.
As the body count rose and the physicality of the match caught up with both sides, the coaches looked to the bench to substitute tired and/or damaged legs. The most concerning injuries were suffered by Francois Hougaard (knocked cold in an accidental knee to the temple) and Danie Rossouw (though his was merely a blood bin and he later returned). Habana’s thigh injury had brought Hougaard onto the field, and Jean de Villiers replaced “Hougie” for the remainder of the game.
The Samoans got just reward for their efforts when eighthman George Stowers, crashed over the line, after a fine midfield wrap-around move that caused the Boks’ rush defence to leave a hole the size of which only residents of Kimberley get to see.
As the match drew closer to the end, the Samoans physicality that struggled to stay the right side of the legal Rubicon, spilled over into a face-shove that saw Nigel Owens, on the advice of the assistant referee, produce the first red card of the tournament. Samoan fullback, Paul Williams who was engaged in a game of handbags with Heinrich Brüssouw and was justly awarded the red card.
Two minutes later John Smit, who had subbed for Bismarck du Plessis, was given his yellow card marching orders, as the standard of the game deteriorated. The Samoans were throwing everything into attack and the Boks did well to absorb their efforts in a half that saw only five points, but would have aged many a Springbok fan by the same amount in years. Schalk Burger was monumental in defence and carried the ball forward as he finally ceased with the strange technique of running with his back into the opposition. For his efforts he was awarded Man of the Match.
The loss means that short of a miracle the boys in blue are going home. One wonders what the state of this game and Samoan rugby in general would be if the New Zealanders ceased with the poaching of promising players from the islands. Samoa as rugby nation have certainly improved and won’t be long before they too start calling for a place in the expanded version of the Tri-Nations.
If the Bok injury concerns do not materialise and a fully-fit squad is available for the knockout stages, South Africa will be pleased with their pool performances. Ending top of the ladder in this quarter is no mean feat and will only hold the Boks in good stead ahead of their next match, no matter who their opponents are. The Boks are looking like the real deal and quietly mounting a serious challenge that could see them defend their title, and write some more rugby history. We can’t wait! DM
For South Africa:
Try: Habana?Con: M Steyn
Pens: F Steyn, M Steyn
Red card: Paul Williams, 67 mins (Samoa, punching)
Yellow card: John Smit, 70 mins (SA, killing the ball)
Samoa: 15 Paul Williams, 14 David Lemi, 13 Seilala Mapusua, 12 Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 George Stowers, 7 Maurie Faasavalu, 6 Taiasina Tuifua, 5 Kane Thompson, 4 Daniel Leo, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Mahonri Schwalger (c), 1 Sakaria Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Ole Avei, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Logovi’i Mulipola, 19 Ofisa Treviranus, 20 Filipo Lavea Levi, 21 Junior Poluleuligaga, 22 George Pisi.
South Africa: 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Jean de Villiers.
Referee: Nigel Owens.
Photo: Samoa’s George Stowers (L) and David Lemi tackle South Africa Springboks’ Bryan Habana during their Rugby World Cup Pool D match at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland September 30, 2011.
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