After their misstep against Ireland, on September 23, the South African World Champions find the way to victory by dominating without trembling a Tongan team, playful, but too imprecise (49-18). Better yet, they qualify for the quarter-finals and, in all likelihood, should challenge the XV of France on October 15 at the Stade de France... unless the Blues lose a disappointment against Italy.
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Alternatively, a win for Scotland (by more than seven points) against Ireland would upset the standings of this Pool B and send the Boks against the All Blacks. "We will have to wait, reacted soberly the South African coach Jacques Nienaber in a post-match press conference. The ranking of the other pool will be known on Friday night and ours on Saturday, so we just have to wait."
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The only quarter-finalist team to benefit from a weekend of rest (unless a miracle happens for Australia), the world champions will be able to regenerate after a particularly tough group stage. "The positive point is that we have already experienced this in 2019, recalls Jacques Nienaber. We finished the pool early and we had a dozen days before the quarter against Japan. It worked well for us at the time. We will rest for two or three days and then we will prepare accordingly. There, we will let the guys cut a little before focusing on what we can improve on our side. Only then will we focus on the opponent.»
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Whether it is France or New Zealand, the challenge will be immense. But the defending champions, sounded after their defeat against Ireland, have reassured themselves and advance sure of their strength. Despite a big squad review, the South Africans were able to score seven tries, alternating play wide and forward play. "We knew that the Tongans were not going to lie on the ground and let us do it," said iconic captain Siya Kolisi, who was celebrating his 50th captaincy. We made a few mistakes, but we fought until the end and I'm very proud of the performance of all the players.»
Against Ireland, they had sinned in the physical challenge, conceding too many turnovers, an area they were able to correct against a team, it is true, less applied in this sector. Small downside, their defense, which had conceded only once until then, conceded three tries. "Cashing in tries is not necessarily related to something we did wrong, judge Jacques Nienaber. You can't control everything on the ground. If we had taken tries because of our attitude or the game system, yes we could work on it, but tonight we took tries that were just very beautiful. Tonga played well. They are a good team that has the talent to create try opportunities out of thin air. Many have played for New Zealand or Australia before. Tonight, we saw it again, they made their magic speak.»
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But the greatest reason for satisfaction lies elsewhere. While they had left 11 points on the road in their defeat at the Stade de France, the South Africans found a scorer in the person of Handré Pollard, who made his return to the group thanks to the forfeit of hooker Malcolm Marx.
Handré had only played 30 minutes at a lower level than such a competition, explained the South African coach. Today he was able to play 50 minutes against a strong Tonga team, a team that was able to compete with a Tier 1 team with experienced players, and he held on. That is a good thing. I think it will continue to progress. He had a solid game. He was good on the runs with the ball, defensively he was there too. At the foot, he was good. On the fundamentals, he really ticked all the boxes.»
Released in the 51st, he scored 8 points at the foot and was able to set an example. His replacement Manie Libbok, so inaccurate until then, has managed the last three transformations! It is therefore difficult to know who will have the preference for the quarter-final. Only shadow on the table, the exit on injury of Makazole Mapimpi. The winger is suffering from a fractured cheekbone and probably shouldn't apply for the next game, but with Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse, the world champions have plenty to do!