The Springboks remain on course for the quarter-finals after beating Tonga 49-18 in Marseille.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber and captain Siya Kolisi praised the team’s effort and physicality against Tonga on Sunday night in their final Rugby World Cup pool match in Marseille – steering them to a 49-18 victory – and doing all they could to remain in the running to defend their title.
The Springboks currently lead Pool B with 15 points, although they’ve played one more match than Ireland (in second place with 14 points) and Scotland (in third place with 10 points), with those teams yet to face one another in their final pool match on Saturday, 7 October.
All three teams are still in the quarter-final race, with one set to drop out of the competition at the conclusion of the pool stages.
“The key for us was to win first and then get the bonus point and we managed to get that early in the second half, then we chased points as much as we could,” said Nienaber.
“As things stand now, one of South Africa, Ireland and Scotland will miss out on the quarter-final, but all three can still make it. The pool will only be decided on Saturday.”
The Boks scored seven tries to three and given the physicality of the match, Nienaber was pleased with his team’s defensive effort.
“From a defensive point of view, I’m proud,” said Nienaber.
“We don’t see it as a negative. The team showed great attitude on defence against a Tongan team that got better as the tournament progressed, and I feel the guys put in a great shift in their physicality on defence.”
Such was the physicality of the match and the importance of earning a bonus-point victory, Kolisi said earning his 50th cap as the Springbok captain was the last thing on his mind.
“The only thing I was thinking about was the physicality of the match,” said Kolisi.
“They were tough. We knew they would run hard at us, and they never stopped. I applaud the boys for sticking to the plan. We got the bonus point, and we accumulated as much points as we could.”
Nienaber delivered bad news on the injury front, saying wing Makazole Mapimpi suffered a cheek injury in the match.
“Makazole has a fractured cheekbone, so he’ll go for scans on Monday to determine the seriousness of the injury,” said Nienaber.
With a week off before the team knows their fate in the competition, and another week before the quarter-final, Nienaber said it was not unchartered territory for the Boks.
“It’s a positive for us in that it was similar to our 2019 campaign,” said Nienaber.
“We also finished the pool stages early and had a 12 or 13 day break, so we’ve done it before as a team.
“We’ll give the players two or three days off to get away from rugby and have a mental break, and then work on the things we can do better to stay in the competition until the end.
“We’ll only know the outcome of the France and New Zealand pool on Friday and our pool on Saturday, and then we’ll know which teams will face one another.”
South Africa 49 [Tries: Reinach, Moodie, Fourie, Kriel, Le Roux, Van Staden, Smith; Cons: Pollard 4, Libbok 3] Tonga 18 [Tries: Tameifuna, Inisi, Pellegrini; Pen: Havili]
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Grant Williams, 13 Canan Moodie, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi (Captain), 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Marco van Staden, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Jaden Hendrikse, 22 Jesse Kriel, 23 Manie Libbok
Tonga: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Fine Inisi, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Anzelo Tuitavuki, 10 William Havili, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Semisi Paea, 7 Sione Talitui, 6 Tanginoa Halaifonua, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Halaleva Fifita, 3 Ben Tameifuna (captain), 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi.
Replacements: 16 Sam Moli, 17 Tau Koloamatangi, 18 Sosefo Apikotoa, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Sione Vailanu, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Patrick Pellegrini, 23 Afusipa Taumoepeau.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England) & Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Brett Cronan (Australia)