October 5, 2019 / 12:43 AM / 10 days ago

Boks revel in 'play-off mode' as momentum builds for knock-out stages

FUKUROI CITY, Japan (Reuters) - Rassie Erasmus says South Africa will come out mentally stronger from their 49-3 Rugby World Cup Pool B mauling of Italy at the Shizuoka Stadium on Friday in what was essentially a play-off victory that has likely sealed their quarter-final place.

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2019 - Pool B - South Africa v Italy - Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, Shizuoka, Japan - October 4, 2019. South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus during the warm up before the match. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

Defeat would have consigned the Springboks to an embarrassing, and historic, early exit from the tournament, but they dominated the forward battle and forced Italy into cynical play, resulting in a red card for prop Andrea Lovotti after 43 minutes.

The job is not quite done yet, and the Boks have a quick turn-around ahead of a meeting with Canada in Kobe on Tuesday, but Erasmus was pleased with how his side coped with the mental pressure ahead of the Italy match, with a likely run in the knock-out stages to come.

“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 told reporters.

“One box ticked. There is the Canada game and after that hopefully three more games with the same frame of mind in terms of intensity, expectations, pressure, big moments.

“It was a good test for us and we are pretty happy with how we handled that.”

Despite seven tries scored, Erasmus believes they still need to sharpen up in attack if they are to go all the way and lift the trophy.

“We definitely have to get better on the attacking side. As you saw, New Zealand scored nine tries two nights ago (against Canada) and we scored nine tries (against Namibia).

“They scored it in different ways and we scored it in different ways. Some people enjoy the way New Zealand score tries, and we enjoy the way we score tries.

“We have a certain style that we play. We have certain types of players and we play to our strengths.”

There had been some scepticism after the match went to uncontested scrums after only 18 minutes, as first Italian tight-head prop Simone Ferrari went off early with a hamstring problem, and then his replacement, Marco Riccioni, failed a Head Injury Assessment.

“We were better at scrum-time against a good Italian pack, until they had to go to uncontested scrums,” Erasmus said.

“If it was any other coach I would say it was planned, but because it was Conor (O’Shea) I know it was just bad luck. He is an honest man and a good coach, there are no funny tricks with him.”

Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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