The Springboks regrouped after a long week of introspection and stepped back onto the field in more composed and bullish form with a victory of 46-6 against Samoa. JP Pietersen caught the world’s attention in this game after three consecutive tries. Jean de Villiers, however, left Springbok supporters devastated when he was sent home after a collision with a Samoan player that resulted in a fractured jaw. It was later confirmed in a post-match press conference that the unlucky Springbok captain would be heading back to the UK to take up a consulting role with the Boks.
The match against Scotland was billed as the decider to see who would top the group, and the Boks triumphed after firing on all cylinders in a 34-16 victory over the brave Scots. The match against the USA gave Springbok stalwart Bryan Habana the chance to equal All Black Jonah Lomu’s record of 15 tries in a Rugby World Cup.
The Springboks met familiar foe Wales in the quarter-finals. It was in the 75th minute that the Springboks managed to salvage a try that filled every South African heart with pride after a neat back-pass by Duane Vermeulen found Fourie du Preez, who flew over for a try in the corner. The 23-19 victory was sufficient to secure the Springboks a hard fought semi-final spot.
The Springboks then had to deal with the unenviable task posed by old rivals New Zealand in the semi-finals. A penalty by Handré Pollard saw the Springboks draw first blood in the early tussle. The lead was short lived, however, as the All Blacks responded with a try that Dan Carter was able to convert after the referee ordered a retake due to Bryan Habana’s initial early chase. South Africa showed great resilience with some inspired defense to keep the All Blacks at bay. Handre Pollard proved instrumental with the boot that allowed for a 12-7 Springbok lead just before half time, this after a yellow card offense by All Black Jerome Kaino. New Zealand came back with renewed urgency in the second half and Dan Carter cut the deficit to 12-10 with a cheeky drop-goal. Second-half substitute Beuden Barrett made an immediate impact for New Zealand when the improvised winger capitalised on an opportunity for a try that would be converted into a 17-12 lead. The Springboks then forced a penalty from a scrum that was converted by Pollard. Carter responded and provided a five-point buffer with another penalty. Springbok substitute fly-half Pat Lambie then made it a two-point game with time slowly slipping away.
The Springboks would later find themselves pinned deep in their own half as they looked to launch a response in injury time, but the end was soon signalled by a knock-on by Victor Matfield that scuppered any hopes of a comeback. It was a gutsy performance by the Springboks and a respectable loss to the best rugby nation in the world.
Hennie Kriel, a strength and conditioning expert who worked closely with Heyneke Meyer in the past, said “The All Blacks showed why they are number one and favourites to win the world cup. Heyneke will be disappointed in the first 15 minutes of the second half. With [the] one man [advantage], the Springboks were not aggressive enough. The big disappointment was our inability to get distance with our defensive kicks. I’m sure Heyneke [realised] that we have to improve in our attacking play to stay with the All Blacks. So close, it was an epic battle.” Handre Pollard also tweeted on his official account, saying, “We came as a team, but [we’re] leaving as brothers.”
Photo: Shen Scott