SHIZUOKA, 4 Oct - It wasn’t always plain sailing, but South Africa’s performance against Italy on Friday sent a message – the Springboks will offer formidable physical resistance to any team expecting to take home the Webb Ellis Cup.
It could easily have gone awry for the Boks against the Azzurri, who beat them as recently as 2016. But from the outset, captain Siya Kolisi and his team imposed their might on the opposition at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa to run out 49-3 victors.
They applied big tackles, swarmed all over the Italy attack with rush defence and rumbled as a pack towards the try line with their menacing forwards.
Number eight Duane Vermeulen, flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit and second-row Eben Etzebeth produced their best displays of the tournament in stifling their Italian counterparts.
An early try by Player of the Match Cheslin Kolbe helped to settle the South Africa nerves, aided by fly-half Handre Pollard, who slotted the conversion and then a penalty.
Italy tried hard to repel the South Africa pack, but time and again they ran into walls. It was something Bok coach Rassie Erasmus demanded from his players, and they delivered.
"It definitely wasn’t perfect," Erasmus said. "One of the things we tried to do today was, with the 6-2 split, to try to get a physical performance out there,” the former loose forward said.
"I thought tactically and technically, there were definitely some mistakes, but the way the guys physically pitched is what we wanted to get out of this game.
"If we as South Africans want to go all the way, that’s something that we need in our game. We felt that in the previous tests we’ve played this year, it wasn’t really consistent.
"I thought in this specific test match, our physicality – which is one of our strengths – was very consistent through the game, and I am really proud about that."
Skipper Kolisi also praised his players for their committed display.
"To see a guy like ‘Beast’ (Tendai Mtawarira) so keen to scrum every penalty we got, and how crazy he goes, it really inspires us as a team,” he said.
"We will work on attack, but we know we are really good at being physical. It doesn’t matter if it’s ugly or not, as long as we can get over the line."
Italy coach Conor O’Shea may have employed an attacking style that was too narrow, and his team would have been better served by stretching the Springboks defence out wide.
"We didn’t get the chance to show our true worth in the second half. The squad fought hard, but it is hard against a team that are stronger," the former Ireland full-back said.
"They now know the level they must play at and, as I said before, the match was over after that red card (of prop Andrea Lovotti)."
South Africa must still see off Canada on Tuesday, and then it is a long wait until the quarter-finals.
"We were nervous about this game and are totally in play-off mode. When you get to that stage, everybody is a little more nervous," Erasmus said.
"One box ticked. There is a Canada game, and after that hopefully three more games with the same frame of mind in terms of intensity, expectations, pressure, big moments."