VILLA PARK: We are going to have to reinstate them. The World Cup has yet another contender – as if we ever doubted that South Africa remained just that. If to dismiss them after their Japanese horror show was an overreaction, then perhaps we should greet this demolition with sobriety.
Nevertheless this was about as perfect a demonstration of how to beat Samoa as any beleaguered coach could have conceived. Slow, slow, slow, steady, endure, take aim, then, with position established unarguably, erupt into the final half-hour. By the end, South Africa were beating Samoa every which way – with the ball in tight, with the ball on the wing.
JP Pietersen was the nominal beneficiary, the winger bagging a hat-trick, but the work done inside him by various stalwarts deserves the plaudits. Fourie du Preez, making his first start since February – was masterful; Eben Etzebeth brought mighty heft to proceedings; Schalk Burger was rampant. And then there was the captain, the most doubted of all, whose speed of hand was swift and accurate enough to unlock the Samoan defence time and again.
But that was later. To begin with, as they had vowed, it was back to basics for the Springboks. Ferocious focus and patience as they absorbed what they knew would be a fearsome assault. Within a minute they had forced an offence and taken the lead from it. Etzebeth, back in the enforcer role to which he was born, cleared out the first ruck with sufficient force to coax Filo Paulo off his feet. Handré Pollard converted, and the Springboks had something early to build on, which they developed further by driving a maul from the restart a good 20 metres up the field.
No one expected Samoa to go quietly. Within another 10 minutes they had the lead. Where South Africa were all slow-burning menace, the islanders knew their fortunes depended on the explosive approach. TJ Ioane was providing those fireworks in defence, while Ofisa Treviranus did much the same with ball in hand. In between the pyrotechnics, Tim Nanai-Williams ghosted with speed and threat.
Pollard was slow to roll from one of the many collisions for penalty number one before Mike Stanley landed the second from halfway when Samoa showed they could do slow-burning too with a mighty shove at a scrum.
Stanley, though, was having an uncomfortable afternoon elsewhere. His nadir came after quarter of an hour, when he sent out a less than hopeful pass to Alesana Tuilagi from top-of-the-lineout ball. Pietersen stretched his long frame to pluck the ball from the sky with little trouble and canter in to re-establish a lead the Boks would take into the break, further embellished by three Pollard penalties.
Stanley was responsible for two of those. He was bumped off a couple tackles – not something one often says of a Samoan, even when Burger is doing the bumping – and he missed touch with one crucial relieving penalty. Burger’s bump and another by Bryan Habana, less famous for it, on the same man were the precursors to two of those successful penalty strikes by Pollard.
South Africa were very much in control, for all the sporadic outbreaks of Samoan handling, smashing and darting. Indeed, it is hard to recall Samoa entering the South African 22. The Springboks’ studied intensity was precisely what Heyneke Meyer had ordered. It had seemed, too, for one glorious moment as if Jean de Villiers, so cruelly short of form or favour, had scored in the corner. The man himself certainly celebrated as if he had, but Willie le Roux’s foot was adjudged to have hit touch before he slipped the ball inside to his captain.
A 17-6 lead at the break was ample reward for their patience. And there was more of that on the way. By the end of the third quarter, the game was buried. It was over by the end of the fifth minute of the second half, if truth be told. Dazzling hands by Etzebeth, no less, De Villiers and Habana – to send Le Roux away – had set the alarm bells ringing in the second minute of the second half, and three minutes later the warning was consummated.
More dazzling hands from De Villiers put Pietersen in for his second after Pollard and the ever-threatening Damian de Allende had punched dents in the defence.
On the hour, a Samoan lineout was plundered after Habana had been tackled into the corner and Du Preez sent Burger smashing over for South Africa’s third.
Samoa responded when Nanai-Williams sparked a brilliant counterattack, but the try by Tusi Pisi it had seemingly inspired was cruelly ruled out for a forward pass. It was a brief respite.
South Africa, having broken their foe, were now playing with the confidence of yore, relaxing back into the running game that has been held responsible for all their woes in the first place. Schalk Brits finished off a lineout and drive for the bonus point in the 71st minute, before Pietersen completed his hat-trick two minutes before the end, sent clear this time by Patrick Lambie’s swift hands. When Habana streaked clear at the death to take their tally through 40, South African delirium was unconfined. They are back.