Hail the World Cup of wonderful contrasts, and an amazing effort by Tonga in a northern French mining town. South Africa patently did not expect the fielding of a mostly reserve XV in Lens to be a gamble but be in no doubt: the tournament's second favourites were relieved to get away with a win. The Tongans did a long lap of honour to celebrate a bonus point and England, their final pool opponents in a win-or-bust meeting next Friday, will pay due attention.
Most of the crowd must have assumed it was a foregone conclusion that, when South Africa used their vastly experienced bench during the second half, Tonga would wilt. Not a bit of it. Instead, with two of those stellar South African replacements – Frans Steyn and Bryan Habana – in the sin-bin, along with Tonga's Joseph Vaka, a Springbok lead of 27-10 was whittled down to 27-22.
First, after 69 minutes, the fly-half Pierre Hola's cross-kick exploited the space for Sukanaivalu Hufanga to score. Then a speculative Hola kick in his own 22 was mis-hacked by Percy Montgomery and Tonga broke upfield with a pass off the floor by Tevita Tu'ifua, an intuitive kick ahead by Vungakoto Lilo and a hack-on for a tumultuous finish by the flanker Viliami Vaki. Hola converted Vaki's try, and although South Africa were calmed by a Montgomery penalty in the 76th minute, there was time for a Hola penalty and a chip to the touchline which very nearly ran for Aisea Havili.
The first half had been quiet by comparison, featuring a candidate for worst pass of the tournament – Wynand Olivier's decidedly non-scoring effort to Ashwin Willemse – until, in the final minute, possibly the tackle of the tournament was made by Tonga's captain Nili Latu, four-square into a charging Gurthro Steenkamp. The latter piece of bravery restricted South Africa to a 7-3 interval lead, courtesy of a quick-thinking tap-and-go try from Ruan Pienaar.
"England against Tonga willbe physical," said the Boks' captain, Bob Skinstad. "It's a top-of-the-table clash, which no one expected."
South Africa: R Pienaar; A Willemse, W Olivier, W Julies, JP Pietersen; A Pretorius, E Januarie; G Steenkamp, G Botha, CJ van der Linde; B Botha, A van den berg, W van Heerden, B Skinstad (capt), D Rossouw. Replacements: J Smith for Rossouw, 24-30 & 49; BJ Botha for Steenkamp, 46; V Matfield for Van den Berg, 46; B Habana for Willemse, 46; F Steyn for Julies, 46; P Montgomery for Pretorius, 59.
Tonga: V Lilo; T Tu'ifua, S Hufanga, E Taione, J Vaka; P Hola, S Tu'ipulotu; S Tonga'uiha, A Lutui, K Pulu, P Hehea, E Kauhenga, V Vaki, F Maka, N Latu (capt). Replacements: I Afeaki for Kauhenga, 50-66; for Hehea, 66; E Taukafa for Lutui, 66; L Filipine for Latu, 66; S Havea for Tu'ipulotu, 66; A Havili for Vaka, 73; I Tupou for Taione, 77.
Referee: W Barnes (England).Reuse content