The goal was achieved – the Boks won and got a bonus point. Now we wait to see who will be the Boks’ opponents in the quarter-finals this weekend.
The win over Tonga was anything but moonlight and roses. The scoreboard shows South Africa won 49 – 18, but there are many holes that need to be plugged before the weekend of October 14 and 15 when the knockout games begin. The second half showed that as soon as the Boks lose structure, there are spaces for the opponent to score tries.
The Springboks are also still struggling to finish. When you hang out in the opponents quarter area, the scoreboard has to talk. This is where unnecessary mistakes creep in which gave Tonga easy opportunities to escape. That’s exactly what many rugby fans are talking about about the All Blacks’ 96-17 victory over Italy. Every pass – wild or not – was caught and the All Blacks rounded off. It is now a game against Italy, but it will be good for the tournament if the New Zealanders are now back on an upward curve.
The good news for coach Jacques Nienaber is that he has almost two weeks to find answers. The negative aspect may be that many of his first-choice players last played against Ireland on 23 September. The question is will they be fresh or rusted?
The best news from the victory over Tonga is how Handré Pollard and Manie Libbok showed they are excellent generals for the Boks. After all the lamentations about the kicking to the posts, they succeeded with every kick. Both Pollard and Libbok are much more than their kicking – they also looked dangerous in attack. Pollard fans will be very happy that he was replaced by Libbok after 50 minutes of play without any fuss. They both belong in a match group for the knockout rounds.
There were blunders on defense at the back, but that can be fixed.
The Boks’ forwards were properly tested by the physical men of Tonga. They passed the test and at times they even bullied the giant islanders up front. Power lock Eben Etzebeth does look like he could do with a two-week break. Deon Fourie has shown that he can also excel as a hooker at this level. He was deservedly named Player of the match.
Another bright spot in the victory was the dedication with which Cobus Reinach played. He also belongs in a match group for the quarter-final due to his versatility and reliability. He also does not kick away possession unnecessarily.
The bad news is that Makazole Mapimpi has cracked his cheekbone. Further scans will be done today. It would be a shame if he couldn’t play further in the tournament.
Nienaber said the team will take a little break from rugby for two or three days and then start preparing in all seriousness for the knockout phase.
Irish vs Scots will be decisive
The final group game between Ireland and Scotland creates interesting permutations for the teams. Ireland need just one point to go through to the quarter-finals with the Boks. Ireland will win the group because they beat the Boks. Should Scotland get four or five points and Ireland no points, Scotland will go through to the quarter-finals and the Boks win the group because they beat the Scots. So there is a lot at stake for all three teams when the Irish and Scots meet on Saturday night at 9pm.
Jones on thin ice
Someone who could probably do with a break is Australia’s coach, Eddie Jones. His team did win 34 – 14 against Portugal, but they remain unimpressive. Fiji need just one point against Portugal this weekend to knock Australia out of the tournament for the first time in the group stage. Jones has a contract until the next tournament in 2027, which will be held in Australia. He may be building a new team, but the question is how long the Australians will endure this grief before Jones gets in the way.