Boks need bonus-point win against Tonga – with the Scots lurking
In a complicated matrix of possible results lies the outcome of Rugby World Cup’s (RWC’s) Pool B. South Africa, Ireland or Scotland could top the log – or find themselves on the next plane home.
Scotland would do the Boks a favour if they beat Ireland by eight points or more. That outcome would allow the Boks to top the pool … and would see Scotland and Ireland finishing level
The Springboks have been boosted by the return of flyhalf and goalkicker Handré Pollard, and are favourites to beat Tonga in their fourth and final World Cup pool match in Marseille this Sunday.
They will be under pressure to score as many points as possible and get the largest possible points difference. Having achieved that, they will have to wait for the result of the Ireland-Scotland match on 7 October to see whether they finish first, second or third in Pool B.
The team that wins this group probably tackles the All Blacks in the quarterfinals, but the runners-up face an equally daunting challenge in the shape of France.
Either scenario is preferable, of course, to the one that sees South Africa finishing third in the pool and exiting the tournament before the knockout stage.
All three scenarios are possible. Ireland, Scotland and South Africa are all in the running for the top spot in Pool B, but all are vulnerable to early elimination.
World Cup pool tie-breakers
With just a few games remaining, it’s still possible that Ireland, Scotland and the Boks will finish the pool phase with the same number of log points.
Under tournament rules, the first tie-breaker for two teams finishing on the same number of log points is the head-to-head result between them.
If Ireland, Scotland and South Africa are on the same number of points, this tie-breaker will not apply, as South Africa would have beaten Scotland, Ireland would have beaten South Africa, and Scotland would have beaten Ireland (more on this possible result later). None of the teams would deserve to be above the other two on this basis.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup 2023
Why the Boks need a big win
The next tie-breaker would be points difference, followed by the difference between tries scored and conceded, then most points, most tries and, finally, world rankings as of 9 October. Ireland currently lead the rankings, followed by South Africa (third) and Scotland (fifth).
By Saturday night, Ireland, Scotland and South Africa will have completed three of their four pool matches. Ireland and the Boks have already boosted their respective points differences (+122 and +86) after massive wins against Romania in the earlier rounds, and Scotland should do the same when they face the eastern Europeans in Lille on Saturday.
It will be interesting to see if Scotland overtake the Boks in this area. Their attack can blow Romania away, but their defence is not as miserly as the Boks’.
Nevertheless, by Saturday evening, Ireland will sit at the top of Pool B with 14 points, followed by the Boks on 10 and Scotland on 10. Thanks to the Boks’ 18-3 win over Scotland in Marseille, they will remain above the Bravehearts in the standings, even if Townsend’s charges win by 70-odd points against Romania.
On Sunday evening, the Boks have the chance to strengthen their playoff hopes. Coaches and players have spoken at length this week about the quest for a bonus-point victory that will push their log tally to 15 points and elevate them to the top of Pool B with one round to play.
They will also be looking to surpass Ireland in the points-difference, points-scored and tries-scored categories. To do that, they need to score 53 points against Tonga, win by at least 36, and score at least seven tries.
Why Parisian upset would suit Boks
If the Boks tick those boxes, they head to the final pool weekend on a surer footing. In that scenario, they would lead the pool with 15 log points, Ireland would sit in second with 14 and Scotland in third with 10.
Who do the Boks support when the two Celtic nations collide in Paris on 7 October?
Victory for Ireland would eliminate Scotland from the qualification race, as even if the Scots managed to claim two losing bonus points, they would finish on 12 log points – three shy of second-placed (in this scenario) South Africa.
Scotland would do the Boks a favour if they beat Ireland by eight points or more. That outcome would allow the Boks to top the pool with 15 points, and would see Scotland and Ireland finishing level with 14 apiece. The Boks would go on to play the All Blacks in the quarterfinals, Scotland would face France, and Ireland would catch a plane back to Dublin.
If Ireland claim one losing bonus point in Paris and finish level with the Boks, then they secure first place in Pool B owing to their earlier win over South Africa. Scotland would be knocked out, unless they beat Ireland with a four-try bonus point. This would lead to another three-way finish, with all on 15 points – and points difference would determine who was first, second and third.
Bonus point or bust against Tonga
The Boks must clear the first hurdle, though. If they fail to claim a four-try bonus-point win against Tonga, they will leave themselves vulnerable to elimination.
Then the final round would begin with Ireland on 14, the Boks on the same number and Scotland on 10. Scotland would move up to 14 points via a win against Ireland, although they would need to improve their points difference to South Africa to knock out the defending champs. That is possible if Scotland win big against Romania and the Boks struggle against Tonga.
If Scotland get a bonus-point win over Ireland, they move to 15. If Ireland and the Boks finish on 14, Ireland progress, the Boks go home. The Celtic clash will be decisive, but victory margins against Romania and Tonga this weekend will go a long way towards shaping the final standings. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.