Samoa 5-13 South Africa, Rugby World Cup, September 30
Springboks battle past brave Samoa
September 30, 2011
South Africa's Bryan Habana celebrates his first half try
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South Africa booked a place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with a narrow 13-5 victory over a determined Samoa at North Harbour Stadium on Friday night.
A try from winger Bryan Habana and the kicking exploits of fly-half Morne Steyn and centre Frans Steyn gave the Springboks the edge in a bruising contest to confirm their progress into the knock out stages as the winners of Pool D. But they had to weather a gutsy display from Samoa who dominated their rivals for long periods and crossed for a second half try through No.8 George Stowers before losing fullback Paul Williams to a red card.
South Africa started strongly with Habana laying claim to a Fourie du Preez box kick inside Samoa's 22 but Morne Steyn's drop goal attempt drifted wide of the posts. Samoa responded with some direct running into the heart of South Africa's defence but were penalised just over half way for holding on in the tackle. Frans Steyn stepped up to try his luck from 55m and looked to have made the kick only to see it hit the cross bar and bounce back into play.
The Bok forwards continued to take the attack to Samoa and hammered their rivals back into their own 22 before the quick ball found its way to Habana out wide and the winger had the pace to power past a tackle from David Lemi and touch down in the corner. The Television Match Official was required to confirm the score but there was little delay before Morne Steyn opened his account with the extras.
Back came Samoa with a pass through centre Seilala Mapasua's legs putting Lemi into a gap before scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i and fly-half Tusi Pisi threatened but the Springboks slowed the ball effectively and eventually earned a penalty.
There was little let up in the pace or the intensity with Samoa happy to go toe-to-toe with the Boks and it was no surprise when tempers flared midway through the half with Mahroni Schwalger and Jannie du Plessis warned by referee Nigel Owens.
Samoa lock Kane Thompson was a little unlucky to get penalised a couple of minutes later but Frans Steyn had little sympathy as he landed the kick from inside his own half and close to the touchline. Thompson's conduct proved costly again moments after following a scrum penalty and his decision to question the referee's judgement made Morne Steyn's task from the kicking tee a little easier.
South Africa looked to turn the screw at scrum time and the lineout and the following the next penalty Frans Steyn lined up a monster kick from over 60m but his kick was a little short and wide. Turnover ball deep inside the Samoa half allowed South Africa to exert yet more pressure but some desperate defence from Lemi snuffed out the danger.
The influential Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu and Mapasua then sparked an impressive counter attack only for the Springboks to stand firm and force the turnover. But the Samoans ended the half on the front foot with Fotuali'i darting away down the short side before Mapusua loomed up in support but the centre's pass inside went to ground.
South Africa attempted to set a lung-busting tempo at the start of the second half with a chip and chase from winger JP Pietersen putting Samoa's Alesana Tuilagi under immense pressure inside his own 22. From the resulting scrum South Africa attempted to walk the Samoa pack back over their line but failed and there was a further blow for the Boks with Habana forced out of the game through injury to be replaced by Francois Hougaard.
His first contribution came in defence as Samoa piled forward with Mapusua cutting a fine line but play was brought to a sudden halt as Hougaard caught the knee of prop Zak Taulafo and was briefly knocked out. He was forced to make way for Jean de Villiers but the delay did little to stop Samoa's momentum.
The Islanders hit top gear with Pisi and Sapolu combining well to stretch the Springboks before the fly-half popped up again to feed the ball inside to Stowers who powered over from close range to get his side on the board. Pisi pulled his conversion attempt wide of the posts and Morne Steyn was also wide of the mark from the kicking tee as he looked to offer an immediate reply.
Lemi then had the crowd on their feet with a superb linebreak and his foot speed carried him deep into South African territory before a superb tackle from fullback Patrick Lambie brought him down. The Samoan speedster was not held but was penalised as he attempted to reignite his run.
Spurred on by that success, Samoa stepped up their efforts but having absorbed another raid the Boks hit back by hacking a loose ball into their rivals' 22 where Mapusua had no option but to toe the ball into touch. South Africa reverted to type at the lineout with a powerful drive that appeared to take them over the line but the TMO could see nothing conclusive. The Boks re-grouped but a knock on as they looked to spin the ball gifted the ball back to Samoa.
Sapolu was soon causing trouble again on the Springboks' 22 with some dynamic footwork baffling defenders. The ball found its way to the outstanding Williams who chipped the ball through for Tuilagi to chase only for Lambie to scramble the ball away.
The ball was retained with Lemi then Sapolu driving close to the line with flanker Schalk Burger doing his best stem the flow before Schwalger spilled the ball as he attempted to dot the ball over from close range.
The danger was only averted temporarily before Samoa streamed forward again but an altercation between Williams and South Africa's Heinrich Brussow brought the game to a dramatic halt once again. Williams was guilty of raising his hands and was shown a red card striking his rival after his offence was spotted by the assistant referee. The decision ratcheted up the intensity another couple of notches and it was soon a 14-a-side game with the Boks' replacement hooker John Smit shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock on.
The game continued to simmer but the Boks recovered their composure long enough for Pietersen to ghost into the Samoa 22 before a big tackle on Burger by Sapolu disrupted their rhythm and dislodged the ball. In sight of a hard earned victory, South Africa looked to keep it tight but were robbed of the ball by a Samoan defence reluctant to accept defeat.
Another strong run from Lemi, including a stiff arm to Bismarck du Plessis, took his side back into the Boks' 22 where they peppered the line only to lose the ball in contact and with it went their chance of rescuing the game.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.