Defending champion South Africa advanced to the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals as the Pool D winner after beating Samoa 13-5 in the teams’ final group match.
Bryan Habana touched down and Frans Steyn and Morne Steyn kicked penalties in the first half as the second-ranked Springboks overcame the Pacific Island team at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland. The underdogs outscored South Africa in the second half, with George Stowers crossing the line in the 51st minute.
“It was very tough,” Springboks captain Victor Matfield said. “The first half we played all right, the second half we went to sleep and the Samoans came out with a lot of heart. They kept the ball and they ran hard, but luckily our defense held them out.”
South Africa’s record 11th straight victory in World Cup games lifted it to 18 points atop Pool D. The Springboks can’t be caught by second-place Wales, which has 10 points and faces Fiji in the five-team group’s last match in two days.
South Africa, seeking to win the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time after taking the title in 1995 and 2007, joined tournament favorite New Zealand as the only teams guaranteed a place in the last eight. The other six spots will be decided in the final seven pool games taking place this weekend.
By finishing top, South Africa will play its quarterfinal Oct. 9 in Wellington against the Pool C runner-up. Australia currently occupies that position before it takes on Russia tomorrow. First-place Ireland plays Italy the following day and will win the group by avoiding defeat.
South Africa, which won its six previous matches against Samoa by an average margin of 42 points, took advantage of a strong tail wind in the first half to kick the penalties that made the difference.
Habana scored down the wing in the 9th minute, becoming the first South African to score 40 test tries, and Morne Steyn added the conversion.
The Springboks weren’t able to touch down again despite having the momentum as Frans Steyn and Morne Steyn added penalties to make it 13-0 at the half. Morne Steyn’s kick made him the second South African to score more than 400 Test points.
The Samoans, who needed at least a point to keep hopes of moving to the quarterfinals, increased the pressure in the second half as they got the wind behind them.
Stowers powered over several Springboks, extending his arm to touch down. It was the second try South Africa has allowed in the tournament.
Paul Williams was red carded in the 70th minute for a blow to the head to a Springbok, leaving the Samoans short-handed. A minute later, John Smit, the sole South African to play in each of their matches at the event, was given a yellow card for a professional foul, leaving the sides even for the remainder of the game.
“I wasn’t disappointed,” Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger said. “I’m pretty proud of what my boys did out there tonight. They gave it all for our people and for our country.”
South Africa made 152 tackles, double the amount of the Samoans, who won more than twice as many breakdowns as the Springboks.
Two-time champion Australia faces Russia in the first of tomorrow’s three games needing a bonus-point victory to guarantee a quarterfinal spot. France can advance to the last eight as the Pool A runner-up if it gets at least one competition point against Tonga, and England can secure top spot in Pool B by defeating Scotland in the final match.
There are four games scheduled Oct. 2, when Ireland has the chance to finish atop Pool C by beating Italy in the last of the 40 pool matches.