Springboks outmuscle 14-man Italy to move top of Pool B
South Africa ramped up the physicality to crush an Italy side reduced to 14 men for most of the second half 49-3 on Friday, moving above the Italians and New Zealand to the top of Rugby World Cup Pool B in the process.
The Springboks have never failed to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup and they all but erased that possibility at this tournament with a display of controlled brutality at Shizuoka Stadium.
The ever-dangerous Cheslin Kolbe scored a try in each half and Bongi Mbonambi, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, RG Snyman and Malcolm Marx also crossed to comfortably earn the twice World Cup winners a bonus point.
Italy's already tricky task became nigh on impossible when they had prop Andrea Lovotti sent off for dropping Duane Vermeulen on his head in the 43rd minute and their slim hopes of progressing now rest on beating the All Blacks for the first time.
Italy had spoken before the game of how discipline would be crucial in deciding the outcome but they did not back their words with action as they battled to match the physicality of their fired-up opponents.
It was not vintage from the Boks despite the scoreline, but there were enough signs of improvement from their opening 23-13 loss to New Zealand to suggest they remain a real threat. They demonstrated their forward dominance in the opening minutes when they were awarded a penalty at a scrum, a set-piece that saw tight-head prop Simone Ferrari forced off the field with a hamstring strain.
From the attacking line-out, the ball was spun wide to the dazzling Kolbe, and he stepped inside and out to beat two defenders and score in the corner.
Tommaso Allan kicked Italy’s only points from a penalty conceded at the breakdown, but the Boks restored the seven-point gap when Pollard countered with a kick of his own.
Ferrari’s replacement, Marco Riccioni, managed only 16 minutes on the pitch before he went off with a head injury and never returned, leaving the final 62 minutes to be played with uncontested scrums as the introduction of Nicola Quaglio meant Italy had two loose-heads on the pitch.
The Boks were rewarded for some positive play to score their second try as Pollard turned down a kickable penalty and from that attacking set-piece they were able to muscle the ball over the line through Mbonambi for a 17-3 halftime lead.
Italy, desperate to get back in the game, started the second half with a thrilling break into the Bok 22, but, having been awarded a penalty for offside just five metres from the line, Lovotti inexplicably tipped Vermeulen through 180 degrees and allowed him to fall onto his head for a clear red card offence.
With the card went any realistic hopes for Italy and, after Pollard’s clever kick out of hand set Kolbe in for his second score, Am intercepted for the bonus-point try and Mapimpi profited from a neat chip by Willie le Roux to also cross. Snyman got on the scoresheet when Matteo Minozzi’s risky blind pass was collected close to the line by the lock and Marx barged over from a driving maul with the final play of the game as a deflated and defeated Italy crumbled.
Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Tokyo, editing by Tony Lawrence