South Africa came down from the high of the Australian triumph with a deeply disappointing performance against Romania at Newlands in Cape Town yesterday.
Two close-range tries for Adriaan Richter and 11 points from the boot of the full-back, Gavin Johnson, were all the Springboks could manage in a match which raised serious doubts about their strength in depth.
The South Africans made 10 changes from the team who finished against Australia, and their coach, Kitch Christie, had insisted there were no weak links in his 26-man squad. Afterwards, he chose to give credit to the Romanians rather than criticise his much-changed team in public.
"We didn't play as well as we'd like to have played, but I think we must give a little bit of credit to them," he said, defending his decision to give all of the squad a game early on. "I think some of our new players realised it was a lot tougher out there than they thought it would be, but with the ruck ball we got we should have scored more."
Richter, the stand-in captain, confirmed there were "a few guys who really underestimated the Romanians", but preferred to blame the opposition for South Africa's lack of rhythm. "Romania played a very negative game," he said. "The ball we got was always very slow."
South Africa led only 8-0 at half-time through a push-over try from Richter and a Johnson penalty, and their lack of headway against a side hammered 34-3 by Canada in their opening game was almost embarrassing. There was little improvement after the interval, and the forwards ground out the victory, presenting Richter with his second close-range try.
Romania finished with a flourish when their flanker Andrei Guranescu forced his way over the line to score his side's first try of the tournament three minutes from the end.
Romania's manager, Theodor Radulescu, was quick to put South Africa's performance into persepective. "I believe South Africa can reach the final, perhaps against Australia, but not with the team that played today," he said.
ROMANIA: V Brici (Farul Constanta); L Colceriu (Steaua Bucharest), N Racean, R Gontineac (both Cluj Univ), G Solomie (Timisoara Univ); I Ivanciuc (Stinta Petrosani), V Flutur (Cluj Univ); G Leonte (Vienne, Fr), I Negreci (CFR Constanta), G Vlad, S Ciorascu (Auch, Fr), C Cojocariu (Bayonne, Fr), A Guranescu, T Brinza (Cluj Univ, capt), A Gealapu (Steaua Bucharest).
SOUTH AFRICA: G Johnson (Transvaal); J Small (Natal), C Scholtz (Transvaal), B Venter (Orange Free State), P Hendriks; H Le Roux, J Roux (all Transvaal); G Pagel (Western Province), C Rossouw (Transvaal), M Hurter (Northern Transvaal), K Wiese (Transvaal), K Otto, R Kruger (both Northern Transvaal), A Richter (Northern Transvaal, capt), R Brink (Western Province).
Referee: K McCartney (Scotland).