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, 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 – some of them highly experienced but equally scrutinised by South Africa’s unforgiving critics – deserves the plaudits. Fourie du Preez, making his first start of any kind since February, was masterful; Eben Etzebeth brought mighty heft to proceedings; Schalk Burger was rampant. And then there was the captain himself, Jean de Villiers, the most doubted of all, whose speed of hand, at least, 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 were the order of the day 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.
No one expected Samoa to go quietly, and sure enough there were blows to endure. Within another 10 minutes the Islanders had the lead. Where South Africa were all slow-burning menace, they 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. And, in between the pyrotechnics, Tim Nanai-Williams ghosted with threat. Two Mike Stanley penalties, one from halfway, poked hard enough at Springbok composure to set it a credible test.
Stanley was having an uncomfortable time elsewhere, however. His nadir came after a 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.
Both 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 now in control, for all the sporadic outbreaks of Samoan handling, smashing and darting. Indeed, it is hard to recall Samoa entering the South Africa 22. The Springboks’ studied intensity was precisely what Heyneke Meyer had ordered. It had seemed, too, for one glorious moment as if 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. Samoa were teetering, their frustrations growing in the face of implacable opponents. By the end of the third quarter, the game was buried. It was buried 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 only the second minute of the second half, and three minutes later the warning was consummated.
More sparkling hands from De Villiers put Pietersen in for his second, after Pollard and the ever-threatening Damian de Allende had punched dents in the Samoan defence. Then, on the hour, a Samoan lineout was plundered after Habana had been tackled into the corner, and Du Preez sweetly sent Burger smashing over for South Africa’s third try.
Samoa responded when Nanai-Williams sparked a brilliant counterattack, but the try by Tusi Pisi that 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.
South Africa Le Roux; Pietersen, De Villiers (capt; Lambie 72), De Allende (Kriel 49), Habana; Pollard, Du Preez (Pienaar 74); Mtawarira (Nyakane 62), Strauss (Brits 68), J du Plessis (Malherbe 54), Etzebeth, Matfield (De Jager 55), Louw, Burger (Kolisi 68), Vermeulen Tries Pietersen 3, Burger, Brits, Habana Cons Pollard, Lambie Pens Pollard 4
Samoa Nanai-Williams; K Pisi, Perez, Lee-Lo, A Tuilagi (G Pusi 66); Stanley (T Pusi 54), Fotuali’i (Afemi 77); Taualafo (Afatia 63), Matu’u (Avei 52), Johnston (Perenise 52), Paulo, Tekori (Levave 46), Ioane, Lam, Treviranus (capt; V Tuilagi 62) Pens Stanley 2
Referee Wayne Barnes (Eng)
Att 39,526 Rating 7/10