SHIZUOKA, 4 Oct - Player of the Match Cheslin Kolbe scored twice as South Africa rolled up their sleeves and strong-armed Italy to claim a 49-3 bonus-point victory at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on Friday.
The Springboks edged closer to a place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals after scoring seven tries.
They would be expected to beat Canada on Tuesday, which will likely see them in second position behind New Zealand in Pool B.
That is unless Italy do the improbable and topple the All Blacks with a bonus-point win in their final pool match on 12 October.
South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus’s blueprint was clear before Friday’s match, and his players carried it out to a tee as they got stuck into the Azzurri with blunt force.
Italy had an early casualty as tight-head prop Simone Ferrari left the field after just two minutes due to a right leg problem, and he was replaced by Marco Riccioni.
South Africa loose-head prop Tendai Mtawarira pounced immediately as he drilled Riccioni backwards at the first scrum, and that set the tone for a long night for the Italian forwards.
The Boks’ direct approach paid off in the sixth minute as they showed good variety on attack by changing the play from side to side, with the likes of Lukhanyo Am, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Lood de Jager and Damian de Allende all flying over the advantage line, before hot-stepper Kolbe danced past Michele Campagnaro to dot down.
Even when Italy fly-half Tommaso Allen pulled back three points with a ninth-minute penalty, Pollard replied with a goal-kick of his own to maintain the seven-point lead.
South Africa’s renowned rush defence also brought great reward as they harried the Azzurri into mistakes with ball-in-hand.
➡️100m ran (2nd Most)— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 4, 2019
➡️Three Clean Breaks (Most)
➡️Four Defenders Beaten (Third most)
The @mastercard Player of the Match for #RSAvITA was Cheslin Kolbe of @Springboks #POTM #RWC2019 #StartSomethingPriceless pic.twitter.com/CHklFDutc8
Italy took another blow in the scrums when Riccioni had to leave the field for a head injury assessment in the 20th minute, and he never returned – which meant that the rest of the match had uncontested scrums.
The Springboks’ "slow poison" bore more fruit in the 27th minute, when a well-designed driving maul saw hooker Bongi Mbonambi dive over for his third try of the tournament.
Italy didn’t stop trying, but may have made the wrong decision to kick three consecutive penalties to touch instead of opting for three points, as they were repelled by the Boks each time.
The match turned into a nightmare for the Italy props early in the second half when loose-head Andrea Lovotti received a red card for dropping South Africa number eight Duane Vermeulen on his head – referee Wayne Barnes called it a "clear and easy decision".
That allowed the Boks more space on attack, and they began to play with greater confidence when carrying the ball.
Pollard stretched the lead with a second penalty, and then delivered a cross-kick for Kolbe to grab his second try in the 53rd minute after some excellent offloads.
"I think the boys are obviously now in playoff mode..."@Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus praises his team after a dominant performance and victory over Italy #RSAvITA #RWc2019 pic.twitter.com/Cn4dEey3g5— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 4, 2019
There was a bit of good fortune for the Boks with the fourth, bonus-point try, as centre Lukhanyo Am intercepted a pass by Italy flanker Jake Polledri just before the hour mark, while Makazole Mapimpi was a grateful recipient of a Willie le Roux chip kick for the fifth Bok try.
Pollard’s conversion of Am’s five-pointer saw him surpass Percy Montgomery for the South African record of most points at the Rugby World Cup (115).
Replacement second row RG Snyman, pictured above, and hooker Malcolm Marx rounded things off with two further tries in the closing minutes.