It was billed as a potential banana-skin fixture for South Africa – after all, a loss today and they’d be contemplating a Rugby World Cup group-stage exit for the very first time.
But there’s something very impressive about this Rassie Erasmus-led Boks outfit – as Italy discovered today to their detriment.
No nerves, no hesitation. It was a paired-down style of play early on, built from robust defence and keen discipline. Just six penalties (after they conceded nine, and some crucial ones at that, against the All Blacks), some incredible hits, but more than that, a grinding, consistent, controlled malevolence.
The red card to Lovotti killed Italy, but the body blows had already been struck by then. The rolling maul was unstoppable, the lineout unflappable, and the work at the breakdown was not too shabby either.
Knockout stage opponents will look nervously at the permutations that lie ahead now. This is a team you want to avoid – not just because they might beat you – but because even if they don’t, they’ll put you through the absolute wringer (and your next opponents then might).
The Japan 2019 dream is over for Italy, but for South Africa it may yet just be taking form.
And it’s a big triple-header of rugby action from the Japan World Cup tomorrow.
We start with Australia playing host to Uruguay for entree, then it’s the very tasty main course of England v Argentina, with a Japan-Samoa clash for pudding. Suit you, sir.
He’s famous for his mind games, but Eddie Jones reckons he hasn’t been in Nigel Owens’ ear before England’s key clash. Here’s the latest from Gerrard Meagher:
While Paul Rees takes a detailed look at the high-flying host nation – on an unprecedented four-consecutive-World-Cup-wins:
So, if you’re just joining us now (long lie in in Italy?) here’s the executive summary:
And here’s how the overall tournament top scorers list looks:
What a tournament for hookers this is turning into – first a double for Tolu Latu, now it’s Bongi Mbonambi showing the wingers how to do it.
For Rassie Erasmus, he’d be delighted with what he saw from his chargers. He said pre-game he didn’t need to overanalyse the performance – he just wanted the result.
Well he got both. A thumping result, and a pretty decent performance as well.
Yes, there were some handling concerns in the first half. From the set piece the backline look nowhere near as fluent as it should have been. It was far from a flawless showing from the Boks. But if you’re crystal-balling ahead to the knockout stages this is a side anyone would want to avoid, if they’re in this kind of form. Unflinching, unswerving from their responsibilities. A team very much on the front foot.
For Conor O’Shea and his coaching staff, they’d be pulling their hair out (if any was to hand) after no doubt weeks and months of planning, nights spent tossing and turning, and countless idle hours coming up with winning schemes.
That couldn’t have gone much worse for the Italians. It started with the loss of prop Simone Ferrari – inside a minute – with a suspected hamstring tear. His replacement succumbed to concussion after a nasty bump on the noggin inside just 18 minutes.
And then, just minutes back onto the pitch after a bruising first half, a third prop – Andrea Lovotti, saw red. A justified sanction at a World Cup where repeatedly we’ve heard that protection of the head must be paramount. And he and Quaglio then dumped the unfortunate Vermeulen right on his.
So – let’s take a look at the tables with that result included:
With a massive points differential and a second bonus point secured, South Africa leapfrog Italy into top spot in Pool B – albeit with the All Blacks still with a game to play.
Let’s be very clear though – any talk of the Springboks missing a quarter-finals berth, for the first time at a Rugby World Cup, can be well and truly put to bed.
Full-time: South Africa 49-3 Italy
And there it is! As dominant a performance as you’ll see against a tier one nation at this World Cup.
We wondered how they were feeling after that narrow loss to the All Blacks, and tonight South Africa well and truly fired a warning shot across the bows of world rugby.
Ferocious, ruthless, imperious. What a showing from the Springboks.
Try! South Africa 49-3 Italy (Marx)
80 min: They play past the gong, the Boks. And why not when you’re in this mood. And it’s the veteran, who crashes over after another truly dominant rolling maul from the Boks.
They showed us that early in the piece, and then tucked it away for a while. But what a fitting way to finish this match!
No extras from Pollard. We must have hurt his feelings.
78 min: Concern late on for South African fans – it’s Kolbe off on another of his mazy runs, but he appears to have pulled up lame. A big worry if that will affect his place later on in the tournament – what a game he’s had today, the diminutive winger.
Try! South Africa 44-3 Italy (Snyman)
76 min: They pressing for a baker’s round 50 (don’t @ me), the Boks. They were unrelenting in their pressure first half, and now they’re making hay and enjoying themselves.
The fullback Minozzi got himself in a real mess after great defensive pressure from Kolbe, and it was easy as you’d like for Snyman to open his account.
Pollard. He’s missed. What’s going on? Real black mark, this.
73 min: It’s South Africa, unsurprisingly on the attack once again, and Mapimpi, having just opened his account for the match is suddenly lurking like a vulture for a second.
He’s denied metres short of the line, but it feels very much just a matter of time before Gli Azzurri’s (did I get that one right?) line is breached once more.
70 min: It’s dejection all round in the Italian coaching boxes. Conor O’Shea called for a Herculean effort from his chargers, but about now thoughts start turning to damage control, and ensuring they have something left for the clash with the All Blacks.
They’ve never beaten New Zealand, Italy. That’s now what they have to do to stay alive.
Try! South Africa 39-3 Italy (Mapimpi)
67 min: And lest anybody feel they’re missing out, after the Kolbe show (in flashes) we’ve got a try for South Africa’s other winger. Mapimpi helps himself to one, and it’s well and truly time to call the vet in. It was a chip down the middle, and the winger strolls in easily, under the posts.
Pollard strikes the conversion, two more points.
65 min: So after the war of attrition that we’ve seen, no surprises that both sides have almost entirely emptied their benches. Plenty of fresh players on in both green and blue.
A close up of a dejected Sergio Parisse on the Italy bench. His side has been clattered, and the veteran hangs his head – knowing that the World Cup miraculous is now beyond them.
An Italian lesson on the run for yours truly. Too much time covering Barbara Bonansea and her pals at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, clearly.
Apologies to Azzurri fans of either gender, plural or singular. That’s what happens when I try fancy things.
Back to haddock and chips, me.
60 min: So. The last time these two sides met it finished 35-6 in Padua. This one looks like it might get a little nastier than that.
But before you despair, Azzurri fans, remember that just over 20 years ago in Durban it finished 101-0.
Even with their tails up, I can’t see the Boks putting on 15 tries today.
Try! South Africa 32-3 Italy (Am)
57 min: Cometh the hour, cometh off the wheels. They’re done now, Italy. Am with an acre of space to run into – these boys are hard to stop with fifteen out there, let alone 14.
A big turnover from Italy, as a forced pass fell nicely into the arms of the flying outside centre. And he’s cantered home from 40m out.
Pollard back on the money, with the conversion attempt.
55 min: They’re on the attack again, South Africa – this could get nasty.
Le Roux flicks a lofted pass to Am, but the Italian scrambling defence covers well. The ball falls to ground – is there a chance to counter attack? No! It’s Kolbe, who bundles his opponent into touch!
Try! South Africa 25-3 Italy (Kolbe)
52 min: And here it comes! The man advantage is going to be exploited at some stage, and he’s in for a double, Kolbe. The smallest man on the field, but with the fastest feet, you’d warrant. Pollard looks for him with the crossfield kick, and he claims it nicely.
And remarkably – turns out he is human – Pollard’s missed one! A tricky touchline special, but meat and drink for this guy.
Penalty! South Africa 20-3 Italy
50 min: Pollard. Three points. And those are the first of the half. Remarkably.
What a test of character this will now be for the Italians. They’ve been battered for 50-odd minutes, now they have to chase a 17-point deficit, with 14 men.
49 min: A string of infringements – Italian hands everywhere, and we have a chance for Pollard to aim at the sticks. Benefit of the doubt says desperation, but gee.
47 min: It’s the box kick from Tebaldi and Parisse almost regains, but they counter attack quickly the Boks. Oh my! But with Le Roux flying down the wing, he puts it on the toe – but scuffs it straight into touch! He looks embarrassed the fullback – he’s duffed that.
46 min: Italy with some sustained possession, but largely going side to side. And the Boks are able to clear their line. Italian lineout feed just inside South Africa’s half.
44 min: No try! It was “Two metre Pieter” who crashed over – and it looked like Italy’s game was going to instantly head south, but the try has been chalked out for obstruction in the lead up. Good spot, refereeing team.
No floodgates opening – just yet.
43 min: A minute of madness for Le Azzurri – they had made a terrific break, had South Africa scrambling, but in a flash of bad temper, they’ve lost a third prop of the game – two from injury, one from insult. Silly, silly business.
Red card! (Lovotti)
42 min: It’s a big bust by Steyn for Italy! He looks for the support runner, Tebaldi is there but he’s swamped by covering defence. They’re eventually pulled down and we halt for a penalty.
There’s another dodgy cleanout from the Italians, and Vermeulen remains injured.
Ay, ay, ay. It’s a very nasty tip tackle from Lovotti and Quaglio – and it’s a red card!
Not the start the Italians would have wanted.
No rest for the wicked, and we’re back. Pollard gets us going and the South African tackling ferocity continues. A five-man lineout this time from the Boks, but again their backline move doesn’t work, as they cough up another easy turnover.
“I haven’t seen anyone bash anyone like this all World Cup”.
That’s the half-time assessment from the antipodean commentary crew I happen to be watching – is that your read as well?
And from an Italian perspective then, how do you counter this?
So. Your reflections on that opening 40? And is there any way back for the Italians?
It felt tough, unrelenting, and extremely physical – even despite the lack of scrums.
I have to admit, I don’t think I’ve seen a team lose two tight-head props inside twenty minutes in a game of rugby before. Anyone? Classic tales from yore?
Half-time: South Africa 17-3 Italy
39 min: They build the phases, the Boks, but they’ve conceded a penalty, as the skipper arrives late to a clean out. Italy clear their lines, to huge relief.
And there’s the gong. South Africa will be pretty happy with that showing – they’ve hammered their opponents, unrelentingly.
37 min: South Africa play to the backs this time, but its du Toit who pops up in the line, and pops up the ball! Can’t blame the backs for that one.
Kicking error for Italy – as they kick into touch after a pass back into the 22m. South Africa with a big chance to really hurt their opponents on the scoreboard, just before half time.
35 min: It’s another stoinking rolling maul from the Boks, gaining 10-15m at a canter, and it earns another penalty as Mbonambi is caught slightly high.
34 min: It’s against the winger Benvenuti for cleaning out illegally – he did appear to grab a South African player around the head. Clear penalty – a fifth against the Italians already.
32 min: The crowd comes alive (at least the Italian quotient of it). Again, it’s a big mean green wall that greets them. This has been ferocious tackling from South Africa.
The fullback Minozzi tries to get around his tackler, but runs out of territory. Italy recycle, but we stop for a TMO. Was there a high tackle?