Springbok wing Bryan Habana dusted himself off from a horrific first half mid-air collision to score a hattrick of tries and write himself into Rugby World Cup folklore as the Boks secured top spot in Pool B.
The flying wing scored three tries in a 21-minute spell after the break to move to 15 World Cup tries – equalling All Black great Jonah Lomu’s World Cup record. In the process he also pulled level with Wallaby legend David Campese on 64 in Tests.
And despite his personal heroics he honoured the Bok jersey by jogging 25-metres across field to embrace scrumhalf Rudy Paige who came on for his Test debut in the 62nd minute.
Habana also spilled a chance over the tryline moments later‚ to deny himself the outright record. If he doesn’t solely hold the record by the end of the tournament‚ that moment might haunt him.
So what was all the fuss about? The Springboks are into the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals for a sixth consecutive time after a clinical dissection of the USA on a chilly London night.
After losing their opening match of the tournament to Japan three weeks ago‚ the Bok death notices were drawn up. But after a 10-try romp against a committed but outgunned USA the Boks go marching on to a quarterfinal date with either Australia or Wales at Twickenham next Saturday.
The Springboks never looked under pressure but their first half performance was also a little flat‚ which could have been a result of their exertions against Scotland on five days previously.
Defensively the USA were superb in the first half – their line speed and accuracy stopped Springbok momentum. Locks Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth‚ who have both been potent target runners throughout the campaign‚ were often stopped dead.
But the Boks turned the screw through their dominant set piece‚ especially the scrum‚ to put the Americans under pressure.
Francois Louw scored two tries from rolling mauls while there was also a penalty try from scrum pressure.
From the first scrum of the match it was obvious that the USA were in for a long night. The Boks won a penalty from that scrum and from the ensuing lineout they marched the USA pack 10-metres in a maul.
From that front foot position they should have made more of the platform but Pollard attempted a 25-metre pass to free Lwazi Mvovo on the left wing‚ which easily missed its target.
Later fullback Willie le Roux‚ having drawn the defence‚ threw a terrible pass to Mvovo that the poor wing had to take well above his head. It was another opportunity squandered. The backline stuttered for the first half hour but eventually grew into the match.
Despite their problems behind the pack‚ they were on the board soon enough when centre Damian de Allende opened his World Cup try scoring account by cutting through the defence after flank Schalk Burger cleverly tipped a loose ball backwards. The move stemmed from a rolling maul.
The Boks second try came courtesy of referee Pascal Gauzere awarded a penalty try after a third USA scrum collapse five metres from their tryline.
Hooker Bismarck du Plessis made two crucial turnovers either side of halftime – the first to stop the USA’s best attacking period and the second that lead to Habana’s 13th World Cup try two minutes into the second half.
The biggest fear the Boks had going into this match‚ was sustaining injuries to key players and in the opening quarter there were some heart in mouth moments.
Habana stayed down after contesting a high ball with US fullback Blaine Scully. It was an ugly mid-air collision and Scully landed awkwardly on neck. Both went for concussion protocol tests and both thankfully returned and for Habana‚ the rest is history
Burger was another who stayed down when‚ with typical commitment‚ he flung himself on a loose ball‚ only to cop a knee in the ribs. He’ll be feeling that for a few days.
Burger was withdrawn in the 47th minute to rapturous applause‚ but it didn’t become any easier for the USA as Willem Alberts‚ in full bone crushing glory‚ entered the arena and the carnage continued.
South Africa – Tries: Damian de Allende‚ penalty try‚ Bryan Habana (3)‚ Bismarck du Plessis‚ Francois Louw (2)‚ Jesse Kriel‚ Lwazi Mvovo. Conversions: Handré Pollard (4)‚ Morné Steyn (3).