Bryan Habana scored a hat-trick to equal Jonah Lomu’s World Cup record and boost the Springboks to a 64-0 win against the USA. JON CARDINELLI reports from London's Olympic Stadium.
Earlier in the week, Habana promised to serve the team’s interests before his own. He said he would do his part at the breakdown and under the high ball. If the opportunity to cross the tryline arose, he would endeavour to take it.
Habana did, however, admit that Lomu’s record of 15 World Cup tries was in the back of his mind. The Bok winger went into this match with 12 World Cup tries to his name. He went into the game with 61 Test tries overall, a tally just three short of David Campese’s tier-one Test record of 64.
On an unforgettable night at the Olympic Stadium, Habana equalled both records in emphatic fashion. All three of his tries were the product of excellent anticipation. He so nearly snatched a fourth, a try that would have given him the World Cup record outright, in the 67th minute. Unfortunately, as the 54,700 fans in the stadium acknowledged with a groan, Habana failed to collect a loose ball with the tryline at his mercy.
The result sees the Boks finishing the group stage at the top of Pool B. Habana should have an opportunity to break Lomu’s record, and surpass Campese on the all-time list, in their World Cup quarter-final next week.
South Africa outscored the USA 50-0 in the second stanza. The first half, however, was something of a grind.
The Boks dominated the technically inferior Americans at scrum time. They kicked intelligently to pin the USA back in their own territory. And yet by the end of the first 40 minutes, they had one scrappy score by Damian de Allende and a penalty try to show for their efforts.
The Americans looked fresh and up for the battle at the gainline. The USA loose trio, flanker John Quill in particular, did an outstanding job of stifling and spoiling at the breakdown. The Eagles defenders were quick off the line, and this pressured the Bok backs into making mistakes.
As the teams headed down the tunnel at half-time, large parts of the crowd began to chant, ’USA! USA!’ But while the Americans did well to limit the damage in the first stanza, they could not maintain their efforts over the subsequent 40 minutes.
Bismarck du Plessis made a breakdown turnover that led to a momentum-shifting try in the 46th minute. Fourie du Preez spotted the space behind the defence, and put through a well-weighted grubber for Habana to chase. The ball sat up for the winger, who then completed the score.
Referee Pascal Gaüzére asked TMO George Ayoub to check that Habana was onside. Ayoub said there was no clear reason not to award the try. That was the luck South Africa needed to take control of the game, and for Habana to begin his assault on the record.
The USA battled to contain the Boks thereafter. They left large gaps in the defence, and failed to stand up to the rolling maul.
Heyneke Meyer emptied his bench in the fourth quarter, and the likes of Rudy Paige, playing in his first Test, certainly lifted the tempo. Willem Alberts was a force at the collisions, and Morné Steyn managed the backline well in his first Test in 13 months.
The USA had an opportunity to score at the death. They had the ball deep in South African territory, but then failed to secure it at the breakdown.
Lwazi Mvovo hacked the ball ahead, showed some superb soccer skills to control it further, and then managed to place it beyond the tryline.
Springboks – Tries: Damian de Allende, Penalty try, Bryan Habana (3), Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Louw (2), Jesse Kriel, Lwazi Mvovo. Conversions: Handré Pollard (4), Morné Steyn (3).
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Jan Serfontein.
USA – 15 Blaine Scully, 14 Brett Thompson, 13 Folau Niua, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 Zach Test, 10 Shalom Suniula, 9 Niku Kruger, 8 Samu Manoa (c), 7 John Quill, 6 Danny Barrett, 5 Matthew Trouville, 4 Louis Stanfill, 3 Chris Baumann, 2 Phil Thiel, 1 Oli Kilifi.
Subs: 16 Joe Taufetee, 17 Zach Fenoglio, 18 Mate Moeakiola, 19 Titi Lamositele, 20 Cam Dolan, 21 Al McFarland, 22 Mike Petri, 23 Chris Wyles.
Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images