South African fly-half Handré Pollard during the Rugby World Cup match against Tonga, October 1, 2023, in Marseille. DANIEL COLE / AP
They had left the Stade de France defeated after a high-level standoff against Ireland a week earlier. Sunday October 1 in Marseille, the Springboks resumed their march forward, and almost validated their ticket for the quarter-finals of the 2023 World Cup. Big winners over the valiant Tongans (49-18), the teammates of captain Siya Kolisi will compete the final stages of the competition – perhaps against France if the Blues win on Friday against Italy – if Scotland does not win by more than 20 points this weekend against Ireland.
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Beaten in their first two matches of the tournament (against Ireland then Scotland), the Tongas played without looking down against the world champions. Far from avoiding the test of strength, the powerful Pacific players undermined the South African defense – largely overhauled – during the first quarter of an hour, laying siege to the try line. But after twenty-one minutes of play, it was Jacques Nienaber’s men who were in the lead (14-3). Two tries, by Cobus Reinach and Canan Moodie, each time exploiting a flaw in the Tongan defense. And two transformations, signed Handré Pollard.
At 29, the fly-half celebrated his 63rd cap for the Springboks on Sunday. And his entry into contention in his third World Cup. Not selected for the competition due to a persistent calf injury, Handré Pollard was recalled to the rainbow nation jersey following Malcolm Marx’s injury at the start of the competition. A fly-half to replace a hooker, and a timely change imposed by the lackluster performance of the Springboks’ kickers on penalties. With only 50% success in the first three matches of the tournament (10/20), and a pitiful 1/5 against Ireland – which precipitated their defeat – the South African scorers were not at the level of the world champion team.
The Boks 100% on foot
Even though he tried, one press conference after another, to minimize the problem, the South African coach, Jacques Nienaber, did not hesitate to align the returnee against Tonga, although the half of The opener only has a few minutes of play (with his club Leicester, England) in his legs. “I’m going to be realistic. After playing thirty minutes in [Angleterre]a few weeks ago, playing a match in the World Cup is a big jump”whispered Handré Pollard before the meeting.
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