Pre-match - Springboks wary of Samoa
South Africa were quite wary of Samoa before their clash in a four-nation tournament final despite a string of large victories over the Pacific islanders
Springbok winning margins of 52 points twice, 50, 42, 28 and 27 were achieved with the only 'respectable' defeat suffered by Samoa being 13-5 at the pool stage of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Only five of that South African side did ran out at the 52 000-seat Loftus Versfeld stadium for this match while seven Samoan survivors from the team beaten at Albany in New Zealand in 2011 were still in the Samoan side.
South African coach Heyneke Meyer reported that he has been impressed by the form of the islanders during the mini-league phase of a tournament featuring Test double-headers on three consecutive weekends.
Star left-wing Alesana Tuilagi bagged a brace of tries as Samoa outmuscled Scotland 27-17 in Durban and another five were scored during their 39-10 trouncing of Italy in Nelspruit.
It was a pleasant change from the Samoans' first weekend in the republic when a side lacking several stars suffered a humiliating 74-14 loss in a warm-up game to demoted Super Rugby outfit the Golden Lions.
"Samoa have a strong squad and are benefiting from their best players competing in the Super Rugby championship and at top club level in Europe," warned former Bulls and current Springbok coach Heynecke Meyer.
The Springboks survived some second-half hiccups to down Italy 44-10, but did not seal a flattering 30-17 victory over Scotland until substitute centre Jan Serfontein snatched a last-minute try.
Serfontein, skipper of the 2012 IRB World Junior Championship-winning team, is among several newcomers this season as Meyer seeks to broaden his player base ahead of stiffer Rugby Championship (formerly Tri-Nations) challenges.
Crowd favourite Willie le Roux, a free spirit who plays on the right wing for Central Cheetahs, gets a third outing in a row at full-back and former wing JJ Engelbrecht has looked comfortable at outside centre.
Arno Botha was impressive at flank until an early injury against Scotland ended his season, and gave Siya Kolisi a chance to star as he continued a rags-to-riches rise from township poverty to wearing the green and gold.
Meyer has shuffled his pack for Samoa after a disappointing showing at the breakdown against a Scottish side lacking several key forwards, including injured skipper Kelly Brown.
Powerful ball carrier Willem Alberts is back in place of Botha to get the Springboks more often over the gain and the return of 'scavenger' Francois Louw -who got married the previous week- should ensure plentiful ruck and maul ball.
"We underperformed and underachieved against Scotland," admitted Louw from English Premiership club Bath, "but it was a lesson well learnt. You need those games to put things into perspective".
There is also a change at lock with 120kg Flip van der Merwe replacing lighter, line-out specialist Juandre Kruger, and teaming up with Eben Etzebeth as Meyer seeks greater engine-room options.
After a decade of legends Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha lording line-out battles against all-comers, it has come as a shock to Springboks supporters when rivals steal some throws.
Samoa, skippered by outside centre Paul Williams because wing David Lemi is injured, favour an unstructured game which lets Tuilagi and company loose to demonstrate their power and pace.
However, neither Williams nor recalled fullback James So'oialo possesses the match-winning goal-kicking skills of South Africa playmaker Morne Steyn, and the general pre-match feeling was that it would be a shock if the Springboks did not claim first place.
The Loftus double-header kicked off with a third-place playoff between Six Nations championship rivals Italy and Scotland. Scotland won 34-10 when they last met five months ago in Edinburgh.
There was concerns about the fitness of Springbok captain Jean de Villiers and flanker Willem Alberts. Both were however declared fit to face Samoa in the final match of a four-nation tournament at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
De Villiers led the team onto the field and Adriaan Strauss resumed the vice-captaincy. The team had three changes from the one that beat Scotland in Nelspruit the previous weekend.
The backline remained unchanged, with Alberts, Francois Louw and Flip van der Merwe replacing the injured Arno Botha, Marcell Coetzee and Juandre Kruger.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s team selection for this match was a clear indication that the hosts expect a physical battle at Loftus.
Flanker Willem Alberts and lock Flip van der Merwe were included in the starting XV to beef up the pack and as a counter to the physical Pacific Islanders.
De Villiers on the Friday said while the Samoans were known for the physicality, they would be met with true South African grit.
“We as South Africans are proud of the way we play and we never take a step backwards when a game becomes hard and we look forward to the match.”
De Villiers had been in doubt for the crucial final of the four-nation series due to injury. He was confident he would lead the team onto the field at Loftus Versfeld.
“I reckon you should see me on the field tomorrow. If not I think the team prepared this week as if I won’t be playing,” he said.
The gritty centre said the Springboks had to show significant improvements to the previous weekend’s stuttering display against Scotland in Nelspruit.
De Villiers said the team had to make a step-up, particularly in defence, where they would have to stop the big, strong and fast Samoans.
“Certainly we will have to be better, there is no doubt about that and the team has selected the best team possible,” De Villiers said.
“All our defences will be tested. They are big guys running at you and you have to stop that momentum. We didn’t do that last week so we need to up it in that regard.
“It will be physical and you have to get the basics right. You have to make your tackles and you need to get over the advantage line when you’ve got the ball.”
The Bok skipper said while there was a lot of talk of the Samoans seeking revenge for their 13-5 defeat to South Africa at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, circumstances were different this time.
He said Samoa was a vastly improved side to the one that ran out against the Springboks two years ago.
The point margins from the two teams’ last three encounters also supported De Villiers’ view that the Islanders made significant progress.
Before their match at the World Cup, the Samoans suffered two crushing defeats against the Boks, losing 59-7 at the 2007 World Cup in France and 35-8 in South Africa earlier that year.
“They are the seventh ranked team in the world and they don’t get a lot of time together and they tend to get the results,” De Villiers said.
“They are beating top-tier nations consistently these days and they are probably the most improved side in world rugby over the last couple of years and they are producing quality players.”
15. Willie le Roux, 14. Bryan Habana, 13. JJ Engelbrecht, 12. Jean de Villiers (captain), 11. Bjorn Basson, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Ruan Pienaar, 8. Pierre Spies, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Francois Louw, 5. Flip van der Merwe, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Adriaan Strauss, 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. Trevor Nyakane, 18. Coenie Oosthuizen, 19. Juandre Kruger, 20. Siya Kolisi, 21. Piet van Zyl, 22. Pat Lambie, 23. Jan Serfontein
15. James So'oialo, 14. Alapati Leiua, 13. Paul Williams (captain), 12. John Leota, 11. Alesana Tuilagi, 10. Tusiata Pisi, 9. Jeremy Sua, 8. Taiasina Tuifua, 7. Jack Lam, 6. Ofisa Treviranus, 5. Daniel Leo, 4. Teofilo Paulo, 3. Census Johnston, 2. Wayne Ole Avei, 1. Sakaria Taulafo
Substitutes: 16. Ti'i Paulo, 17. Logovii Mulipola, 18. James Johnston, 19. Kane Thompson, 20. Junior Poluleuligaga, 21. Brando Vaaulu, 22. Seilala Mapusua, 23. Alafoti Faosiliva
Springboks facing the Samoa HAKA at the sart of the match.
Battered Boks beat Samoa
Bryan Habana took his Test try total to 50 on Saturday as South Africa defeated a 14-man Samoa side 56-23 at a chilly Loftus Versfeld to win the four-nation tournament final.
The right-wing scored a try in each half as the Springboks overcame a slow start to lead 32-9 at half-time and the red carding of Samoa left-wing Alesana Tuilagi for a stiff arm tackle on the hour mark ended the game as a contest.
However, Habana saw his hopes of a hat-trick dashed 10 minutes from the final whistle when he deliberately knocked on as Samoa threatened to score and spent the rest of the match in the sin bin.
Springbok flyhalf Morne Steyn had a couple of early penalty chances and after planting the first between the posts, the other drifted just left.
Fullback James So'oialo levelled with his first kick at goal and Samoa were unlucky not to go ahead when a brilliant break by flyhalf Tusi Pisi was thwarted by a try-saving tackle from scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar.
Another So'oialo penalty nudged the Pacific islanders in front only for the Springboks to hit back soon after with Habana claiming the first of four first-half tries.
South Africa kicked two penalties to the corner, won the resulting lineouts and when the ball sped along the line, fullback Willie le Roux was up to send Habana over far out.
Steyn, playing on his home ground, converted and also added the extra points after flank Francois Louw touched down as Samoa proved helpless when South Africa launched one of their most potent weapons - the driving maul.
The loss of centre Johnny Leota with concussion and tighthead prop Logovi'i Mulipola to the sin bin did not help the visitors' cause and the home side took advantage.
Steyn landed a penalty, but failed to convert a try by centre JJ Engelbrecht, who shrugged off several less-than-convincing tackles to touch down for his second try of the tournament.
So'oialo slotted a third penalty off a rare visit to the green-and-gold half, but South Africa struck again with left-wing Bjorn Basson going over in the corner and Steyn converted for a 23-point half-time advantage.
Samoa entered the second half desperate for points and got them within seven minutes when good ball retention off a tap penalty allowed lock Filo Paulo to go over and So'oialo converted.
The fullback had a let-off soon after when, with the crowd baying for a yellow card, he got away with a warning from the French referee for using his hands in an "indecent manner" when grabbing hooker Adriaan Strauss.
"Off, off, off" chanted the crowd within minutes as Springboks skipper Jean de Villiers was the victim of a dangerous tackle by giant Tuilagi, who was red carded after the referee consulted the television match official.
Worse was to follow for the islanders as South Africa won a lineout, set up a maul, and Pienaar darted for the line before sending Habana over in the corner Tuilagi should have been guarding.
A man down on the field and 37-6 down on the scoreboard with a quarter of the Test to go, Samoa knew the game was up and Steyn, Louw and replacement prop Trevor Nyakane added tries, two of which substitute Patrick Lambie converted.
A crumb of comfort for the demoralised Samoans was a try off a clever lineout manoeuvre from substitute forward Junior Poluleuligaga, which skipper and centre Paul Williams converted.
Tries: Bryan Habana (2), Francois Louw (2), JJ Engelbrecht, Bjorn Basson, Morne Steyn, Trevor Nyakane
Conversions: Steyn (3), Pat Lambie (2)
Penalties: Steyn (2)
Tries: Filo Paulo, Junior Poluleuligaga
Conversions: James So'oialo, Paul Williams
Penalties: So'oialo (3)
Bjorn Basson in process of scoring South Africa's 3rd try. This try was scored off set piece (lineout) and was essentially the result of a good running by Willie le Roux and the flatness and timing of his pass to Basson.
JJ Engelbrect on his way to his firts try. This picture shows him stepping inside a defender after burtsing through a tackle due to targeting the inside shoulder of his opponent.
This picture was taken immediatly after the one above. The one below shows Engelbrecht scoring his try.
JJ Engelbrecht scoring his try.
Bryan Habana was tested with some high kicks but were equal to the challenge.
Bryan Habana on his way to his first try. A try produced as a result of deceptive running and passing by Willie le Roux.
Bryan Habana scoring his second try in this match and his 50th test try.
Bryan Habana elated after scoring is 50th test try.
A furious Adriaan Strauss pointing at the Samoan No 15 who gave his nuts a squeeze in a ruck. Strauss chased the Samoan No15 for a couple of meters -with the Samoan running away- after he had his nuts squeezed (afterwards ajudicated to have been an accidental occurance; Strauss didn't thought so at the time).
Alesana Tuilagi got a red card after almost decapitating Jean de Villiers with viscious T-bone tackle.
Francois Louw was man of the match with two tries and an oustanding contribution at the tackle ball.