SHIZUOKA, Japan (AP)South Africa won big in a game it had to win, trouncing 14-man Italy 49-3 to stay in the Rugby World Cup in Shizuoka on Friday.
South Africa was 17-3 up through two tries and the boot of Handre Pollard by the time Italy prop Andrea Lovotti was sent off for dangerous play in the opening minutes of the second half. Lovotti lifted South Africa No. 8 Duane Vermeulen off his feet and speared him into the ground, head-first, for the fourth red card of the World Cup, already the worst count at a Rugby World Cup for 20 years.
South Africa poured on five of its seven tries and 32 points in just under 40 minutes after Lovotti trudged off.
The two-time champion Springboks would have taken a win any which way to keep them in the competition. A first ever exit at the pool stage was on the cards if the Boks lost. They ended up with a huge victory and a bonus point.
”We were nervous about this game and we were in playoff mode,” South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus said. ”We’re pretty happy with how we handled that.”
Italy had problems with props all night. Two of them were injured in the first 20 minutes leading to uncontested scrums.
Italy had been bullied in the first half but got themselves within a few meters of the South African line and the first points of the second half when Lovotti produced his moment of madness.
”Crass stupidity,” Italy coach Conor O’Shea said. ”With the red card our match finished. That was the end.”
Italy is just about out of the World Cup. It needs to beat defending champion New Zealand in its last pool game to have a chance of making the quarters. South Africa is just about through with underdog Canada to play.
Electric right wing Cheslin Kolbe scored two of the tries, hooker Bongi Mbonambi one, and center Lukhanyo Am intercepted for the bonus-point score. Left wing Makazole Mapimpi also had one, Italy gifted replacement lock RG Snyman the sixth, and replacement hooker Malcolm Marx was over in a rolling maul, like Mbonambi earlier, after the final hooter.
The impressive Kolbe left a few minutes from the end with a bump on his ankle. Erasmus said he was OK.
South Africa was dominant up front early in a game billed as likely to be decided up front. The Boks pack buckled the Italians in the first scrum and marched them back in the second. But South Africa’s advantage disappeared midway through the half when the game went to uncontested scrums. That’s because Italy prop Simone Ferrari went off injured in the first minute and his replacement, Marco Riccioni, also later left injured. Italy had no specialist tighthead left.
The Springboks’ big men found other ways to impose themselves, making big charges all night, being effective in the lineout – South Africa won 16 from 16 throws – and scoring two tries from rolling mauls.
More than anything, Erasmus was happy with the physicality of his team, which was impressive. O’Shea was almost in awe of it.
”Thankfully we don’t have to stand in front of them anymore,” O’Shea said. ”They are massive. They are powerful. And we knew that. They’ve got X-factor out back as well … but when that power gets on the front foot, the wave after wave. Potentially one of the most powerful sides I’ve seen on a rugby pitch.”
Interestingly, South Africa’s smallest player is its biggest star so far in Japan. Kolbe, brilliant in the loss to New Zealand, jinked through Italy’s defense for the first try in the sixth minute.
The forwards took Mbonambi over for the second.
Italy’s only points came through flyhalf Tommaso Allan’s early penalty, but Italy tested South Africa’s defense in the first half.
Kolbe’s second came after Lovotti was marched and the winger collected a cross-kick from Pollard.
Am’s try was the result of a crazy, helter skelter passage of play when Italy intercepted deep in its half and broke downfield. The teams both lost possession multiple times before Am intercepted and went 50 meters back the other way to score.
Mapimpi, who left hurt and then returned to the field with a bandage around his bloodied head, also collected a cross-kick to score, this time on the left wing from the boot of fullback Willie le Roux.
Italy fullback Matteo Minozzi handed the sixth to Snyman on a plate when he was being tackled into touch by Kolbe near his tryline and tried to hurl a pass infield. The ball fell for Snyman to scoop it up and dive over.
Marx scored the last try from another maul after the final hooter. South Africa’s forwards were still eager for more.
”We’re really good at being physical,” Springboks captain Siya Kolisi said. ”And that’s the way it’s always been.”
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