Qualified, the reigning world champions will benefit from two weeks of rest before most likely facing the XV of France
After their misstep against Ireland on September 23, the South African World Champions found their way to victory by dominating without trembling a Tongan team, playful but too imprecise (49-18). Better yet, they qualify for the quarter-finals and, in all likelihood, should challenge the French XV on October 15 at the Stade de France… barring a disappointment for the Blues against Italy.
Another possibility, a victory for Scotland (by more than seven points) against Ireland would upset the ranking of this group B and send the Boks against the All Blacks. “We’ll have to wait, South African coach Jacques Nienaber soberly reacted in a post-match press conference. The ranking of the other group will be known on Friday evening and ours on Saturday, so we just have to wait.”
The only quarter-finalist team to benefit from a weekend of rest (unless a miracle happens for Australia), the world champions will be able to regenerate after a particularly tough group stage. “The positive point is that we already experienced this in 2019, remembers Jacques Nienaber. We had finished the group quite early and we had a dozen days before the quarter against Japan. It worked well for us at the time. We will rest two or three days and then we will prepare accordingly. There, we’re going to let the guys cut a little before focusing on what we can improve on our side. Only then will we concentrate on the opponent.»
Whether it is France or New Zealand, the challenge will be immense. But the title holders, stunned after their defeat against Ireland, have reassured themselves and are moving forward confident in their strength. Despite a major squad overhaul, the South Africans were able to score seven tries, alternating wide play and forward play. “We knew the Tongans weren’t going to lie down and let us do it, reacted the emblematic captain Siya Kolisi, who celebrated his 50th captaincy. We made a few mistakes, but we fought until the end and I am very proud of the performance of all the players.»
Against Ireland, they had sinned in the physical challenge, conceding too many turnovers, an area which they were able to correct against a team, it is true, less diligent in this sector. Small downside, their defense, which had only given in once until then, conceded three tries. “Taking tests is not necessarily linked to something you did wronghowever judges Jacques Nienaber. We cannot control everything on the ground. If we had taken tests because of our attitude or the game system, yes we could work on it, but this evening, we took tests which were just very good. Tonga played well. They are a good team who have the talent to create trying chances out of nothing. Many have played for New Zealand or Australia before. This evening, we saw it again, they made their magic speak.»
But the greatest reason for satisfaction lies elsewhere. While they had dropped 11 points during their defeat at the Stade de France, the South Africans found a scorer in the person of Handré Pollard, who returned to the group thanks to the hooker’s withdrawal. Malcolm Marx.
«Handré had only played 30 minutes at a level below that of such a competition, explained the South African coach. Today he was able to play 50 minutes against a strong Tonga team, a team that was able to compete with a Tier 1 team with experienced players, and he held on. This is a good thing. I think he will continue to progress. He had a solid match. He was good on the runs with the ball, defensively he was also present. On the feet, he was good. On the fundamentals, he really ticked all the boxes.»
Released in the 51st minute, he scored 8 points and set an example. His replacement Manie Libbok, so imprecise until then, succeeded in the last three transformations! It is therefore difficult to know who will be preferred for the quarter-final. The only downside is the injury exit of Makazole Mapimpi. The winger is suffering from a fractured cheekbone and probably shouldn’t apply for the next match, but with Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse, the world champions have plenty to do!
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