FUKUROI CITY, Japan (Reuters) - South Africa ramped up the physicality to crush an Italy side reduced to 14 men for most of the second half 49-3 on Friday, moving above the Italians and New Zealand to the top of Rugby World Cup Pool B in the process.
The Springboks have never failed to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup and they all but erased that possibility at this tournament with a display of controlled brutality at Shizuoka Stadium.
The ever-dangerous Cheslin Kolbe scored a try in each half and Bongi Mbonambi, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, RG Snyman and Malcolm Marx also crossed to comfortably earn the twice World Cup winners a bonus point.
Italy’s already tricky task became nigh on impossible when they had prop Andrea Lovotti sent off for dropping Duane Vermeulen on his head in the 43rd minute and their slim hopes of progressing now rest on beating the All Blacks for the first time.
“It was tough in the beginning, we knew what the challenge would be and that it would be a forward battle, so from the first scrum we wanted to give everything,” South Africa captain Siya Kolisi told reporters.
“We wanted to control the set-pieces, because they are very strong in that, and we did that today.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks but we have regrouped. Our coaches and management have been backing us by giving us as much information as possible and the way we responded today was really good.”
Italy had spoken before the game of how discipline would be crucial in deciding the outcome but they specatacularly failed to back their words with action as they battled to match the physicality of their fired-up opponents.
It was not vintage from the Boks despite the scoreline, but there were enough signs of improvement from their opening 23-13 loss to New Zealand to suggest they remain a real threat.
South Africa took the lead from an early attacking line-out as the ball was spun wide to the dazzling Kolbe, and he stepped inside and out to beat two defenders and score in the corner.
The Boks were rewarded for some positive play to score their second try as Pollard turned down a kickable penalty and from that attacking set-piece they were able to muscle the ball over the line through Mbonambi for a 17-3 halftime lead.
Italy, desperate to get back in the game, started the second half with a thrilling break into the Bok 22, but, having been awarded a penalty for offside just five metres from the line, Lovotti inexplicably tipped Vermeulen through 180 degrees and allowed him to fall onto his head for a clear red card offence.
With that went any realistic hopes for Italy and, after Pollard’s clever kick out of hand set Kolbe in for his second score, Am intercepted for the bonus-point try and Mapimpi profited from a neat chip by Willie le Roux to also cross.
Snyman got on the scoresheet when Matteo Minozzi’s high-risk, low-reward blind reverse pass was collected close to the line by the lock and Marx barged over from a driving maul with the final play of the game as a deflated and defeated Italy crumbled.
“We played against a very strong side,” Italian captain Sergio Parisse said. “We tried to come back in the second half but after the red card it was very difficult.
“It’s tough for us, but we must keep going forward. We are very disappointed, but we must try and finish well against the All Blacks (on Oct. 12).”
Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Tokyo, editing by Tony Lawrence