Planet Rugby

SA stumble past Fiji

07th October 2007 15:49

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Smith try v Fiji

John Smit burrows over for South Africa's third try

South Africa became the first team into next Sunday's second semi-final after a remarkable 37-20 win over Fiji in Marseille on Sunday.

Fiji showed flashes of the form which put paid to Wales early on, but rarely looked like being able to overwhelm the South Africans in the same physical manner, and the Springboks waited with discipline and patience for their opportunities, which they then took ruthlessly.

Ho, ho, ho. It was nearly early Christmas in Fiji as even the coconuts must have been dancing on the palms when big Ifereimi Rawaqa burst for the South African corner with the score 23-20 to the Springboks and it seemed that the weekend of upsets would throw up the grandfather of all upsets.

Instead there was slight, young JP Pietersen falling back, making a tackle, turning the big man over and into touch-in-goal as Bakkies Botha dived in to help.

That was the seminal moment in the South African World Cup. It set South Africa on the way to life in the semi-finals of the World Cup and ended Fiji's thrilling challenge. After that the shambling Springboks pulled themselves together and played as they probably should have played from the start, putting muscular pressure on the Fijians down near their own line.

As New Zealand had been duped into playing the way they should not have played against France the day before, so South Africa played most of the match the way they should not have against Fiji, creating a looseness which the Fijians turned to profit.

Fiji did lots of things cleverly and well. Their scrums were quick and efficient, until the last few of the match. They were considerably better at kick-offs, showed greater respect for the ball at the tackle/ruck and they handled far, far better. Uncharacteristically, the Springboks' tackling was feeble, they were shaky under kick-offs, their handling was erratic and they were careless at the tackle/ruck if the ball did not come away immediately, reducing star scrum-half Fourie du Preez to rattled mediocrity.

It was their third match against Islanders at this World Cup and one would have thought that the Springboks would have learnt. Experience, it seems, is not always a good teacher.

After the Fijians had done their war dance and the trumpet-and-cheer had sounded, James kicked off and in a matter of minutes four significant things had happened which would be repeated in the match - the Springboks had mauled well and Fijians collapsed it, there was a gross, unpenalised high tackle and Percy Montgomery missed a kick at goal.

The Springboks had intended using the maul. Given a fair chance it stood them in good stead and produced three tries. The first high tackle was a neck-clamp by Semisi Naevo on Bryan Habana. There were several more from the Fijians in the match. Juan Smith of South Africa was the one penalised and after Pietersen had scored a try on advantage Seru Rabeni was sent to the bin for one whose ingredients were lateness, armlessness and height, on Butch James. Apart from the penalty attempt, Montgomery missed two first-half conversions, the second an atempt that went swinging off far from the uprights. Montgomery was following on other great goal-kickers. On Saturday Stirling Mortlock, Jonny Wilkinson and the French each missed two penalty kicks at goal and Luke McAlister missed a conversion which one would have expected him to goal.

As New Zealand had done on Saturday, South Africa led 13-3 at the break, after scoring two tries.

Their first score was a 50-metre penalty by Frans Steyn. He was straight in front and he kicked the ball straight over. 3-0 after 9 minutes.

Soon afterwards Montgomery came into the line as the Springboks went left and they were battering at the line with Smith close. They got quick ball at the tackle and Du Preez fed Jaque Fourie who scored easily in the left corner. 8-0 after 13 minutes

Smith had a great break but the Fijians were the ones to score next when Bakkies Botha was penalised for an air tackle in a line-out. Seremaia Bai, an economical goal-kicker in the Montgomery mould but even more relaxed, goaled. 8-3 after 24 minutes.

For some reason the Springboks seemed to have great faith in a grubber. Danie Rossouw, Du Preez and Steyn did it to poor effect.

South Africa seemed certain to score when they went wide to the left but Vilimoni Delasau and Akapusi Qera combined to stop Burger close to the line - Delasau with his arm around Burger's neck.

The Springboks mauled for the line but Ifereimi Rawaqa and hooker Sunia Koto hauled the maul down. The Springboks kicked the penalty out and from the line-out mauled again and this time they drove John Smit over for a try. 13-3 after 35 minutes.

The Fijians started the second half running and put lots of pressure on the careless South Africans. When Habana held on in a tackle, Bai had an easy kick at goal to make the score 13-6 after 43 minutes.

The Springboks had a good passing movement going right and running straight until Victor Matfield handed the ball infield to JP Pietersen who scored. This time Montgomery converted. 20-6 after 51 minutes and Rabeni was in the sin-bin for his indiscretion.

Down to 14 men, the Fijians proceeded to score 14 points while the orchestra in the ground played the haunting African tune, Wimowey. It was not just the lion that was sleeping. The Springbok went on the doze as well.

The Fijians went this way and that through phases that seemed to make no advance until the ball went left to Delasau near the half-way line and just in from touch. The big wing galloped, chipped over Montgomery's head into the in-goal. He left Fourie for dead as he raced after the ball and scored far out. Bai stroked the conversion over and the score was 20-13 after 56 minutes.

From the kick-off the Fijians attacked again. Full-back Norman Ligairi broke out. From the tackle lively Mosese Rauluni burst ahead past Schalk Burger. The Fijian captain gave to burly wing Sireli Bobo who powered over in Du Preez's tackle. Bai converted. 20-20 after 58 minutes.

The Springboks were rattled. They were even more rattled when Fiji attacked again after Rawaqa was penalised at a maul and Monty had made it 23-20 with 18 minutes to play. Back came the Fijians going right and a grubber forced the Springboks to concede a five-metre scrum. Rabeni, back on the field, knocked on at the line and the Springboks survived but when Bai missed a drop from in front he ignored a huge overlap to his right which must surely have produced a try.

It was after this that they attacked left and Pietersen's tackle saved his side from an early flight home. That was with 14 minutes to go. In four minutes Fiji had had three chances to score.

Then the Springboks started playing the Fijians into their own territory down on their right and putting pressure on line-out, scrum and tackle. With Burger at number eight, they mauled from a scrum and Smith burst over far out. Montgomery converted.

Fourie had a great run down the middle of the field and then James failed with a drop but in his failing the ball was touched by a Fijian and this produced a five-metre scrum and lots of pressure. In the pressure there were also some silly moments of emotional upset.

From the first scrum the Springboks shoved at the line but Burger lost the ball in picking up as Wame Lewaravu dived into him. They then destroyed the Fijian scrum but Du Preez nudged the ball forward in trying to score. Again they destroyed the Fijian scrum, and when the Islanders were penalised the Springboks scrummed again. Time was ebbing away and eventually the Springboks went left where James forced his way over for a try which Montgomery converted.

The final whistle went and the beaten Fijians formed a tight-knit prayer circle. They had certainly played as a tight-knit team. Captain Rauluni said afterwards: "I'm proud of my boys. I asked them to give their all and they gave it for their country, their family and their friends."

He had reason to be proud.

The Springboks had their semi-final berth but could not have found the exercise satisfying. Have they been away from home for too long? Is the long World Cup a chance for the Northern sides to improve while the Southern sides start fraying at the edges?

Man oft he Match: The Fijian captain Mosese Rauluni was wonderful, energetic, decisive and skilful, a scrum-half with sound judgement. Vilimoni Delasau was always a handful and big Sisa Koyamaibole played with commitment. One player stood out amongst the bumbling Springboks - the main man in the line-out, the best of the tacklers, a great runner with the ball, the player who made the biggest contribution to victory, Springbok flank Juan Smith, our Man of the Match.

Moment of the Match: We have a choice between the aesthetically pleasing and the functional - Sireli Bobo's try and JP Pietersen's tackle and our Moment of the Match, because it mattered so much, was JP Pietersen's tackle.

Villain of the Match: Seru Rabeni, though his absence seemed to galvanise his team-mates.

The scorers:

For South Africa:

Tries: Fourie, Smit, Pietersen, Smith, James

Cons : Montgomery 3

Pens: Steyn, Montgomery

For Fiji:

Tries: Delasau, Bobo

Cons: Bai 2

Pens: Bai 2

Yellow card: Rabeni (50, Fiji, late tackle)

South Africa: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 François Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Danie Rossouw, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (captain), 1 Os du Randt.

Replacements: 16 Gary Botha, 17 Gürthro Steenkamp, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Johann Muller, 20 Wikus van Heerden, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Wynand Olivier/André Pretorius.

Fiji: 15 Norman Ligairi, 14 Vilimoni Delasau, 13 Kameli Ratuvou, 12 Seru Rabeni, 11 Sireli Bobo, 10 Seremaia Bai, 9 Mosese Rauluni (captain), 8 Sisa Koyamaibole, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Semisi Naevo, 5 Ifereimi Rawaqa, 4 Kele Leawere, 3 Henry Qiodravu, 2 Sunia Koto, 1 Graham Dewes.

Replacements: 16 Bill Gadolo, 17 Jone Railomo, 18 Aca Ratuva, 19 Wame Lewaravu, 20 Jone Daunivucu, 21 Waisea Luveniyali, 22 Gabiriele Lovobalavu.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)

Touch judges: Steve Walsh (New Zealand), Paul Honiss (New Zealand)

Television match official: Nigel Owens (Wales)

Assessor: Michel Lamoulie (France)

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