By Ciarán Duffy
Familiar Foes, Familiar Result
Last month I wrote an article on a classic meeting between Australia and New Zealand. With the world cup pool stages starting next week, I’m going to take us back to an opening weekend game of a previous tournament. For the world cup, I will be covering pool B ‘8-0’ style, which features South Africa and Samoa, who have met in the pool stages of the last three editions of the world cup. The game between the sides that I’m going to focus on is the 2007 pool A game, where the eventual champions South Africa took on a physical Samoan side in the opening match for both nations.
South Africa were favourites to progress along with world champions England, with Samoa looking to finish 3rd and qualify for the 2011 tournament ahead of Tonga and the United States of America. South Africa were favourites for the game and started the better with Percy Montgomery kicking three penalties in the first 15 minutes to go 9-0 up. Samoa’s indiscipline was letting them down and they’d given themselves more of a mountain to climb within the first quarter.
Samoa began to impose their physicality on South Africa. Handling errors broke up their attacks, and they weren’t able to capitalise. They were over reliant on big runners and weren’t offering anything else aside from trying to barge through the defence. However, the pressure did tell on one occasion, South Africa were forced into conceding a lineout which Samoa retained, three short passes and Gavin Williams was able to sprint in for a try. It was poor defensively from South Africa, nobody was taking responsibility for making a tackle, and it allowed Samoa back into the game.
From this point until late in the second half it was a story of Samoa putting South Africa under pressure but simple mistakes letting them down. When it became clear Samoa weren’t taking advantage it was only a matter of time until the Springboks would hit back. They stole a Samoan lineout, which lead to Bryan Habana scoring one of the great solo tries in rugby. He received the ball in his own half on the wing he made a quick burst past two defenders and moved into the centre. He stalled and it looked like he had lost his momentum. But Bryan Habana is no mere mortal and instantly accelerated past the whole Samoan backline to touch down. The score was 14-7 and the momentum was suddenly with South Africa. The clock was in red and South Africa had a scrum 5 meters out. They were looking to wrap it up before halftime and a try was inevitable from the moment the scrum was reset. They took advantage of an overlap out wide and Montgomery touched down and converted. At halftime, it was 21-7, and Samoa for all their chances had only the one try and a negative point differential to show for it.
From the first minute of the second half Samoa went all out, they had to get an early score, they had to put doubt into the Springboks mind. They managed to get over the line but it was disallowed for offside. Samoa kept the pressure on until they lost their own lineout again. Francois Steyn hoofed the ball up the pitch and South Africa won their own lineout. Set pieces are key in any game of rugby, if you are losing yours and your opponents are solid at theirs then you will not win a game at international level. Quick ball from a scrum and three passes later Fourie was in, in almost a replica of the Samoan try. 28-7 down with over 30 minutes to go. From here it was all over and Montgomery finished off another quick passing move to secure the bonus point. South Africa’s attacks were well structured and full of pace, Samoa couldn’t handle it.
Habana was proving to be a one-man highlight reel, ensuring that despite being over as a contest, the game was not dull. Deceptive strength is dangerous strength and Habana used it. He started at pace and powered through two Samoans without slowing down, and then accelerated to touch down again. He got his third after a quick tap and go, a visit to the TMO confirmed his hatrick, making the score 47-7.
Being forty points behind, Samoa to their credit never gave up. They had a ten-minute period of possession and never stopped looking for another try. But their tiredness showed and they were losing territory quicker than gaining it. South Africa had more in the tank and they didn’t have to commit as many numbers to the breakdown to retain their own ball, which gave them more attacking options out wide. Samoa were unable to retain possession, when they were turned over again Habana got his fourth try of the game. JP Pietersen got over in the corner after the 80th minute and it finished up 59-7.
Keeping England scoreless in their next pool game will be the game more people credit as South Africa’s awakening into this tournament, but there were clear signs that they were world champion contenders here. The quality of the opposition was not the hardest they would face on their way to lifting the Webb Ellis cup, but the way the Springboks were able to turn what appeared to be a difficult test into a 52 point win showed some serious class. They had to defend and bide their time, and they would strike at exactly the right moment. They didn’t trudge to a reasonable margin of victory, they wrapped up the game in a crucial ten minute period before half time, and continued to storm on long after getting the bonus point.
Samoa would fail to automatically qualify for the 2011 world cup, missing out to Tonga, however they would eventually make it to the tournament. South Africa would go on to become world champions with Montgomery as top points scorer. Habana would equal Jonah Lomu’s record for most tries in a single tournament with 8, which should help erase the memory of being burned for Takudzwa Ngwenyas try of the year in the later pool game against the USA.
Samoa never stopped in their efforts to make the score board look more respectable, despite their hopes of getting anything from the game being well and truly run over by Bryan Habana on multiple occasions. They tried to play an exciting fast game but they just didn’t have the quality. They didn’t win their own set pieces enough and were constantly losing the ball through handling errors or being turned over. It raises a question, is this the way for tier 2 nations to try and cause an upset? Or should they simply play a slow game of retaining possession without going for anything too adventurous. It may not be as entertaining, but it may be more effective. Samoa would lose out to South Africa and Wales in the 2011 tournament, again failing to beat the big names. After a promising performance against New Zealand, and a solid Pacific Nations Cup, they are once again set to come up against South Africa, as well as Scotland. Scotland are certainly beatable and this may represent their best chance of getting into both the knockout brackets and a discussion about being a top tier team.
South Africa and Samoa play each other on Saturday 26th at 4:45.
Ciarán Duffy (@VoiceQuakeDuffy) is a Leinster supporter who would watch any game of rugby while undoubtedly taking it too seriously. He enjoys over analysing and taking a pessimistic look at the bright side while talking about Irish, European, and World Rugby issues on and off the field.
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