Pollard the chef as Boks bash win at the meat-grinder against Tonga

01 October 2023 - 23:03 By Liam Del Carme at Stade Velodrome
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Marco van Staden breaks through the tackles of Fine Inisi and Sonatane Takulua of Tonga to score the Springboks's sixth try in the Rugby World Cup pool B match at Stade Velodrome in Marseille on Sunday night.
Marco van Staden breaks through the tackles of Fine Inisi and Sonatane Takulua of Tonga to score the Springboks's sixth try in the Rugby World Cup pool B match at Stade Velodrome in Marseille on Sunday night.
Image: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The Springboks knew this was a job for the meat-grinder, not the sushi chef's blade.

Even before kickoff there was a lot to process.

By final whistle they had got the job done with a 49-18 bonus point win against Tonga that leaves them on the cusp of Rugby World Cup quarterfinal qualification but with six days before they know their fate.

Scotland can upset the apple cart if they beat Ireland and both teams walk away from their match in Paris with a bonus point. Points difference will first come into play.

First things first though.

On Sunday night on another spectacular occasion inside Marseille's Stade Velodrome the Boks had to gradually draw the sting from Tonga, not just by doing a pummeling job in the primary phases, but by diminishing their appetite as ball carriers.

Sure the prematch talk was about a bonus point and points difference but there were times the Bok defence proved a showstopper, Tonga's blockbuster captain Ben Tameifuna included. Just when it looked, however, that the Boks were in overdrive, Tonga found a late wind as the game got looser. The Boks conceded points they may later regret.

Of course much of the prematch talk was dominated by flyhalf Handré Pollard's second coming. He came, he kicked four from four, and in the 50th minute he was called to rest.

Pollard looked like Pollard and that is all that mattered. When he departed the scene he had just kicked his fourth conversion, his job was done and a fair amount of angst would have departed the Bok fan base.

While the Boks ticked most of the appropriate boxes in the battle for primary possession against Ireland, they did seek greater precision at the breakdown. Duane Vermeulen's third appearance in the Bok No 7 jersey brought a slightly different dimension, and the Boks by and large had the better of the battle on the deck.

With quick ruck ball their strike runners were able to approach with great velocity. André Esterhuizen went on his trademark runs, while Eben Etzebeth and Vincent Koch, too, carried with purpose. Deon Fourie proved a jack in the pack, if not the box.

Tonga deserve kudos and at the start they made their intentions known.

Tameifuna went on a slightly diagonal burst that saw a few Bok defenders feel his thunder thighs.

That lead was short-lived as the Boks quickly earned a penalty that saw the incisive Cobus Reinach tap quickly and sprint for the corner where Tonga were back-pedaling and at their most vulnerable.

What followed next was arguably the biggest moment of the Bok World Cup campaign thus far.

As nerve-settlers go, Pollard's successful conversion from an acute angle was probably the equivalent of three brandy specials. It set sail for the right hand upright but drew enough to draw raised flags.

Tonga were more than capable adversaries. They forced the Springboks to absorb much pressure They set up camp deep in the Bok 22 after the 10th minute and they came thick and fast at the defending champions.

Tameifuna tried a sneaky come-around-front-of-line-out variation but was thwarted just short. On another occasion Willie le Roux seemed beat but he got the finest of touches to put right wing Fine Inise off his stride.

Crucially there were some offensive tackles too with Jasper Wiese and Etzebeth's double hit perhaps the most telling.

Some will say "it was only Tonga" but that effort in the trenches will stand the Boks in good stead for battles to come.

Crucially, too, when Tonga came back for more their own imprecision handed the Boks a get-out-of-jail card when loose head Siegried Fisi'ihoi sealed the ball off at a ruck with his team on red-hot attack.

They didn't just get out of jail, they took the keys with them. Not long after they made the most of a long overdue entry into Tongan territory, and when Canan Moodie sprinted into the clear Tongan hearts sank.

Moodie drew jeers from the crowd after they became aware the ball brushed tight head Vincent Koch's shoulder. Pollard converted, and another box was ticked.

Concerted Bok pressure followed leading into the half-hour mark. Tonga struggled to successfully exit and a slew of penalties close to their try line worsened matters. The Boks kept coming, especially by kicking to the corner and pressure finally took its toll when Deon Fourie fell over at the back of a driving maul.

Well in the clear the Boks then let their guard drop. Whereas their defence stood firm earlier, Tonga made the most of a line-out 5m out. They could deploy their maul but they won successive rucks before Tameifuna finally got his reward by bursting blind and blunt.

The Boks held a 21-8 lead at the break and they displayed far more cohesion, even after they made their initial post-break substitutions.

Apart from profiting by going straight they also showed the odd ruthless streak like when Tonga coughed up the ball inside their own 22. It allowed Esterhuizen to fling the ball with his back to the defence, Jesse Kriel delivering a long range pass to Moodie who in turn sent Le Roux to the corner.

The Boks weren't blemish-free. They did not need a statement of intent. They just needed one that stated they had paid their dues in pool B.

Scorers

South Africa (21) 49 — Tries: Cobus Reinach, Canan Moodie, Deon Fourie, Jesse Kriel, Willie le Roux, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith. Conversions: Handré Pollard (4), Manie Libbok (3).

Tonga (8) 18 — Tries: Ben Tameifuna, Fine Inisi, Patrick Pellegrini. Penalty: William Havili.


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