Springboks throw down gauntlet to Samoa
Warren Gatland has his answer - South Africa can play rugby.
Having struggled to repress by a single point the challenge of the Welsh coach's team in their opening game, a result that nearly reduced Gatland to tears, the Springboks yesterday gave a perfect retort to his jibe about their ability to play by smashing Fiji.
In 2007 after South Africa had beaten the islanders in an immense struggle in their Marseilles quarterfinal I wrote "the Springboks played like world champions to beat Fiji".
Four years on the words are still entirely appropriate.
In Wellington yesterday, John Smit and his men threw down the gauntlet to Samoa, their last menacing Pool D opponents, and sent out a strong message that they will not lightly surrender the Webb Ellis Cup.
This was an outstanding performance; one of the best under Peter de Villiers' custodianship and credit must go to the coaching staff for laying down a template that exposed the weaknesses in the Fiji set-up and finally sucked the power out of their legs.
The Springboks' back-up staff identified a lack of conditioning evident in Fiji's opening game against Namibia and the players brutally applied the tourniquet.
Fiji were smashed in the scrums and smashed to ground when running into tackles. There had been talk of South Africa's weakness in the flyhalf channel but instead the holes were on Fiji's side as the Springboks carried the ball to and beyond the advantage line.
Fiji, too, were shown to be skittish under the high ball but the Springboks, so often castigated for putting boot to ball, did not need to put this tactic to use so frequently.
The superb win, although not faultless, was built on immense individual performances.
Danie Rossouw, the willing soldier, was immense in winning the Man of the Match award. Rossouw, standing in for Victor Matfield, marshalled the Boks' lineout, carried the ball strongly, and was always in the vanguard when an abrasive physical point needed to be made.
How fitting then that the big Blue Bull was the scorer of the last of South Africa's six tries.
Schalk Burger was not far behind and right back to being the dynamo.
Heinrich Brussow scavenged as only he can and revealed unsuspected skills with a deft diagonal chip to set up Frans Steyn's try.
Pierre Spies showed what a player and threat he can be when he stays on his feet; Bakkies Botha provided the fiery 40 minutes required of him and there can't be a harder worker than Gurthro Steenkamp.
John Smit picked up his usual facial abrasions for the cause and showed that the coach may have a point in playing him into form while the third member of the frontrow union, Jannie du Plessis, was strong and as belligerent as a tighthead should be.
Morne Steyn provided key impetus in what might have been a career-changing outing with the way he ran onto the ball and took it to the advantage line and Frans Steyn had his second strong game at the tournament and scored another long penalty.
Patrick Lambie, shaking off tackles that appeared too violent for a 20-year-old, showed the value of a fullback prepared to range into the line; Jaque Fourie made the point that destructive running is not the preserve of the islanders and there was a return to his best for JP Pietersen.
The reserves, with the battleship Bismarck steaming in front of the fleet, all made a contribution that would have made Samoa, waiting in Hamilton for today's outing against Wales, very worried.
All in all a "beware the Boks" outing with the only concern being the difficulties experienced by a skittish-looking Fourie du Preez.