Springboks make strong case for their title defence

World champions won tricky pool with fewest points conceded in first stage of a World Cup

Like the "one vehicle per green light" signal that regulated the rush-hour traffic slowly on to Auckland's Harbour Bridge on Friday night, the world champions have chugged through the opening stage of the defence of their title. South Africa may wear green for go but their pool-winning campaign has been more about stopping other sides playing. By completing anear shut-out of the frantic, fighting Samoans at North Harbour Stadium they set an astonishing defensive record that counters criticism that the Springboks are over the hill.

If there is merit in the truism that attack sells tickets but defences win championships then the Boks should not be written off, four years on from their triumph in France. Conceding just 24 points in four matches here is not only the best pool record in this tournament but a record for the World Cup, outdoing the mark of 25 set by Australia and France in the 1991 tournament, when (as in 1987, '95 and '99) teams played three pool matches, not four. And to think this pool, comprising the Boks, Wales, Samoa, Fiji and Nam-ibia, was lettered D for death.

"We knew we had a hell of a pool," said Peter de Villiers, South Africa's head coach. "We never came here to defend anything. We are not sitting on anything. We're though it now and it's all systems go. Are we confident? You're only confident after the game, you know. There is no easy road in this competition."

That much is clear, considering South Africa meet Australia, Ireland or Italy, depending on the result between the last two this morning, in the quarter-finals, followed possibly by New Zealand in the last four. Might the Boks wilt at the feet of the hard-running All Blacks? The front-row Du Plessis brothers, Jannie and Bismarck, slapped the Samoans about with the will of natural enforcers. "I'm very happy we stayed out of all that crap," said the stand-in captain, Victor Matfield, slightly disingenuously, when asked about Samoa's off-the-ball antics.

Two other veterans of 2007 made telling contributions: Schalk Burger halted Eliota Fuimaonu-Sapolu with a fantastic tackle to save a try and Bryan Habana scored smartly at the left corner before going off with what seemed a dead leg.

John Smit, the 2007 skipper, was much less evident – two minutes as a substitute before he got a yellow card – but Percy Montgomery, whose 105 points in 2007 went a long way to securing the Webb Ellis Cup, and who is now South Africa's kicking coach, says rotation is the key to looking after an older squad.

As to style, "keeping possession" and taking points when they are available is paramount, according to the former full-back. "Especially with this type of game we're playing now," he said. "Kicking wins Test matches, it's as simple as that. You don't score many tries in finals, it's all just kicking, it's more tactical and it's who can handle the pressure the most."

Montgomery kicked 12 of South Africa's 15 points against England in the 2007 final. The other three went to Frans Steyn, who had become the Boks' youngest World Cup representative. Now 24, Steyn has been lining up monstrous kicks from well inside his own half with a nonchalance not seen since Wales's Paul Thorburn a generation ago. But his continued participation in the tournament is in considerable doubt after he picked up a shoulder injury against Samoa. One from three of Steyn's gargantuanefforts went over in that match, and when added to the fantastically consistent fly-half Morne Steyn – who followed Montgomery as the second South African past 400 Test points – as well as Pat Lambie and Ruan Pienaar, the Boks have easily the tournament's most reliable kickers so far.

The New Zealand coach, Graham Henry, described the All Blacks on Friday as "the most successful team in the history of sport over 106 years" but South Africa have the best winning percentage in World Cups. In five tournaments and 28 matches they have lost three times. The major question marks rest with the efficacy of the rush defence against their Tri-Nations rivals, injuries and the somnolescent form so far of the scrum-half Fourie du Preez.

"Competition brings out the best in us," Bismarck du Plessis said of his rival hooker, the iconic Smit. "I was lucky to start this game. If John starts next week or if I start, you've just got to do a job for the team and sacrifice yourself." Does Smit still give the team-talk before kick-off, even as a bench man? "You'd have to be aplayer to see that, eh?" Du Plessis said, flashing a red stop sign to that lineof questioning.

New boys since 2007

Pat Lambie 20, Sharks fly-half is sometimes lost for position at full-back but he loves a run.

Morne Steyn 27, has succeeded with 19 of his 23 World Cup kicks, and his 15 tackles against Samoa put him up with the busiest back-rowers.

Pierre Spies 26, No 8 ruled out by illness in 2007, now back stealingline-outs and sprinting in broken field.

Heinrich Brüssow 25, a flanker who is harder than nails. Difficult to dislodge when he is over the ball.

Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira 26, loosehead prop had a good night's scrummaging against Samoa. A cult hero in a crucial position.

Suggested Topics
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker