South Africa rounded off their World Cup Pool A campaign with a hard-fought 64-15 win over the USA in Montpellier on Sunday.
The curate's egg was good in parts, and so was this performance. The good parts were, in fact magnificent - none more so than a try scored by the USA in the first half. It may just have been the golden moment of the all the pool matches.
South Africa were well in the saddle and looked about to score another try as Fourie du Preez fired a long pass to his right. Up stepped big, long-haired Dan Clever and intercepted the ball. He headed downfield, veering infield, obviously lacking the lags to outstrip the scrambling Springboks but he got a pass in to rangy Alec Parker, who passed to general Mike Hercus. Hercus then floated the best pass of the match, a long pass to his right, perfectly timed for speedster Takudzwa Ngwenya, on the right wing - a pass that allowed him to run at speed onto the ball and the radiologist from Harare set off at speed, leaving speedster Bryan Habana for dead as he raced 52 metres to score at the posts.
It was a golden moment when the American star certainly spangled.
That was just before half-time and the Springboks led 24-10 at half-time - not a perfect half as captain John Smit noted afterwards. The pool leaders were sloppy, knowing that winning would be an easy thing and so expecting that scoring a try would be an easy thing. That led to lots of individuality and lots of careless handling, perhaps exacerbated by a certain dampness on the ball. But eventually they settled and the second half was more structured.
While the second half was more structured they also became, oddly, more prodigal. Where in the first half they had conceded only three penalties, in the second they conceded seven - most of them at the tackle.
The USA battled to get first-phase possession,. Their line-outs were a mess and the scrums under great pressure but they were positive throughout and competed at the tackle and ,made sure the South Africans got slow ball at the tackle/ruck, which is just as well for when they got the ball back quickly their speed and sense of purpose was too much and they scored some splendid tries.
The first try came from quick ball as they charged at the line and Du Preez sent a wicked, low bass at Schalk Burger who scooped it up and powered over. It was a moment of great skill for the loose forward playing No.8, an unaccustomed position but approached with his usual zest. In the first half he tended to try his through-a-brickwall tactics but was at his best when he got quick and clever passes away.
The try was, as is usual at French grounds, greeted with a trumpet blast and a cheer.
Burger was penalised at a tackle/ruck as the Eagles went on a pick-'n-go and Hercus made the score 10-3 but then Cleever, later a hero, was sent to the sin bin as he lapsed into being an habitual offender at the breakdown.
Wikus van Heerden won a turn-over and prop CJ van der Linde sent Frans Steyn running. Over the 22 he went, beating four Eagles as he swerved to the line. 17-3 after 27 minutes.
The Springboks should have scored when they counterattacked but Burger ran too far and then passed poorly. But when Burger peeled off from a line-out the Springboks gave Habana a small overlap which was invitation enough for a try in the corner, which Montgomery converted. 24-3 after 35 minutes.
It was after this that Ngwenya got his brilliant try.
from a scrum Jaque Fourie burst ahead, Burger and Ndungane carried it on and Habana was again over in the corner after just one minute of a more structured half for the Springboks.
When Henry Bloomfield was penalised at a tackle/ruck on the Springbok right, Du Preez tapped and the ball went wide left and then back inside where Juan Smith gave an underarm flip to CJ van der Linde and the massive prop raced over for a try. Montgomery converted. 36-10 after 48 minutes.
The Eagles still had zest for the contest. The Springboks took a quick throw-in not far from their line and Steyn knocked on. The Eagles swooped and they attacked sharply till they went left and fullback Chris Wyles forced his way over through feeble tackles by Ndungane and Matfield. 38-15 after 51 minutes.
Habana chased the deep kick-off which was caught by Ngwenya and the two collided. Their heads banged and both bled from head wounds. Ngwenya had his strapped up like an Alamo wounded and Habana retired for the evening to be replaced by JP Pietersen who had an excellent match.
The next try came from a tighthead at a scrum. John Smit drove well and suddenly Du Preez was darting over. 43-15.
Hooker Owen Lentz had a great run for the Eagles but Pietersen made the break that led to the next score. The Springboks went right from a line-out. Burger drove and then Butch James switched inside to Pietersen who raced ahead. He gave to Steyn who popped a pressured pass to Fourie who scored. 50-15.
Hercus had a great break past Burger to set up an Eagle attack but Cleever lost the ball behind a scrum and Burger, low happier at flank, picked up and passed immediately to his left deep in Springbok territory. Off went Pietersen and eventually Fourie got his second try, which James converted. 57-15.
The last try also came of an Eagle attack. They grubbered and the Springboks countered. Burger started it, Ruan Pienaar was prominent and Smith finished it off with a swerve.
Man of the Match: Hard. Mike Hercus was outstanding in a beaten side and so was sturdy hooker Owen Lentz. The South African loose trio was brilliant. Despite some lapses in judgement the Man of the Match is Schalk Burger. Is there a more zestful player in the world?
Moment of the Match: There were good moments but none as rich and bright and breath-taking as the try by Takudzwa Ngwenya.
Villain of the Match: Nobody at all. It was well-mannered and honourable.
For South Africa:
Tries: Burger, Steyn, Habana 2, Van der Linde, Du Preez, Fourie 2, Smith
Cons: Montgomery 6, James 2
Tries: Ngwenya, Wyles
Yellow card: Clever (24, USA, killing the ball)
South Africa: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 François Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Wikus van Heerden, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Albert van den Berg, 3 BJ Botha, 2 John Smit, 1 Os du Randt.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Bakkies Botha, 19 Bobby Skinstad, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 André Pretorius, 22 JP Pietersen
USA: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13 Philip Eloff, 12 Vahafolau Esikia, 11 Salesi Sika, 10 Mike Hercus (c), 9 Chad Erskine, 8 Dan Payne, 7 Todd Clever, 6 Louis Stanfill, 5 Mike Mangan, 4 Alec Parker, 3 Chris Osentowski, 2 Owen Lentz, 1 Mike MacDonald.
Replacements: 16 Blake Burdette, 17 Matekitonga Moeakiola, 18 Mark Aylor, 19 Henry Bloomfield, 20 Mike Petri, 21 Valenese Malifa, 22 Thretton Palamo.
Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)
Touch judges: Paul Marks (Australia), Federico Cuesta (Argentina)
Television match official: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland)
Assessor: Ian Scotney/Stuart Beissel