There was to be no repeat of last weekend’s result in Brighton and, with it, South Africa breathed a collective sigh of relief. This was win or bust for the Springboks, the players warned by the country’s sports minister not to come home if they could not beat Samoa. If nothing else, the win, which included an all-important bonus point, six tries in all and a hat-trick by JP Pietersen, was a momentary reprieve.
Fikile Mbalula branded the players “a bunch of losers” after their shock defeat to Japan on the south coast and, at Villa Park, the pressure on them was abundantly clear in a nervy first half in which they relied on kicking and line-out ball.
But as the clock ticked on, their confidence increased and it became clear that this was not to be ninth time lucky for the Samoans.
Coach Heyneke Meyer made eight changes from the Japanese defeat, opting to trust elder statesmen such as captain Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield, who laid the platform for many of South Africa’s attacks with a dominant line-out display. The experience of De Villiers, with more caps than the Samoan starting back line combined, showed.
Had Samoa had greater discipline in the first half and greater match fitness as the clock ticked on, the result might have been different.
They had the upper hand early on, boasting 83% of possession in the first 15 minutes and that was reflected in the early scoreline of 6-3 after two Michael Stanley penalties.
But, against the run of play, the underdogs were made to pay for their ambition and invention when a poor pass by Stanley was comfortably gathered by Pietersen, who ran in unchallenged.
How different that half might have been, as Samoa were the bolder of the two sides. The South Sea Islanders’ contribution to the match was best summed up by their rampaging full-back Tim Nanai-Williams, their best player.
But, as they had promised, the Springboks played to their strengths and relied on the physical presence of players such as Matfield, who looked far younger than his 38 years, and recalled Eben Etzebeth to dominate the lineout, .
They also opted to kick, through Handre Pollard, who put 14 points on the scoreboard, whenever they found themselves in possession deep in their half.
It was effective against the Samoans, particularly in light of the line-out disparity, but it smacked of desperation and a lack of creativity.
In the second half, their performance was unrecognisable from that of the opening 40 minutes as they attacked, with their players seemingly free of the tension that had followed the Japan defeat.
It was highlighted immediately by a decision to turn down a kickable penalty to go for touch, seemingly to the chagrin of Meyer in the stands, but it paid off.
A minute later Pietersen scored in the far right-hand corner after some slick passing by Willie le Roux and de Villiers off the back of another strong rolling maul.
By the hour-mark, the game was well and truly over as a contest when Schalk Burger gathered a Fourie du Preez pop-up pass to power over and take the scoreline to 29-6. Samoa could not get themselves on the score sheet in the second half as Schalk Brits scored moments after coming on the field, Pietersen completed his hat-trick and Bryan Habana completed the game’s last try with the final play of the game. With it, the demons of Brighton were exorcised.
South Africa: W Le Roux; JP Pietersen, J de Villiers (P Lambie, 72), D de Allende (J Kriel, 49), B Habana; H Pollard, F du Preez (R Pienaar, 74); T Mtawarira (T Nyakane, 61), A Strauss (S Brits, 68), J du Plessis; E Etzebeth, V Matfield (L de Jager, 54); F Louw, S Burger (S Kolisi, 68), D Vermeulen
Samoa: T Nanai-Williams; K Pisi, P Perez, R Lee-Lo, A Tuilagi (G Pisi, 65); M Stanley (T Pisi, 53), K Fotuali’i; S Taulafo, M Matu’u (O Avei, 52), C Johnston (A Perenise, 52); F Paulo, J Tekori (F Levave, 46); TJ Ioane, J Lam, O Treviranus (V Tuilagi, 62)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Tries: Pietersen (3), Burger, Brits, Habana
Cons: Pollard, Lambie
Pens: Pollard (4)
Pens: Stanley (2)
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