South Africa took a big step towards the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals with a convincing 49-3 victory over Italy.
The Springboks, who lost to New Zealand in their first game but cruised past Namibia in their second, scored seven tries in Shizuoka, five of which came in the second half after Andrea Lovotti was red carded for a dangerous tip tackle on Duane Vermeulen.
The sending off proved to be the game’s big turning point as Italy was looking to cut the Springboks’ 14-point lead and wrestle its way back into the match.
But Lovotti’s challenge on Vermeulen, picking up the No. 8’s legs and driving his head into the ground close to the Springboks’ line, meant Italy’s difficult task became almost insurmountable.
Teammate Nicola Quaglio was also involved in the tackle but escaped without punishment.
Tries from Mbongeni Mbonambi, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, RG Snyman, Malcolm Marx, and a brace from wing Cheslin Kolbe – who so far has been one of the tournament’s star players – helped South Africa to an emphatic victory.
READ: Japanese superfan turns body into canvas for World Cup
“I’m destroyed really for everybody because we worked so hard,” said Italy coach Conor O’Shea, whose players recorded strong wins over Canada and Namibia in their first two games.
“It was 17-3, we had to hang in and do something and we get to the start of the second-half, we’re close to the line and it’s just crass stupidity. Crass stupidity.
“You’re down to 14 men and I thought the boys fought valiantly but when you’re down numbers against a great side it’s just impossible.”
Kolbe shines for Springboks
Kolbe, who displayed his speed in attack and aggression in defense throughout the match, got his first try on five minutes when he showed good footwork to evade two tackles and go over in the corner.
Tommaso Allan responded immediately with a penalty for Italy but that proved to be the only points of the game for the Azzurri.
The match moved to uncontested scrums as Italy lost two tighthead props through injuries, but South Africa nevertheless maintained its physical intensity elsewhere on the pitch.
Hooker Mbonambi crossed off the back of a rolling maul shortly before the half-hour mark to give the Boks a 17-3 lead at halftime.
The game wasn’t entirely out of reach for Italy, but Lovotti’s moment of madness – the fourth red card of the tournament so far – sapped any kind of momentum from O’Shea’s side.
Kolbe got his second when he gathered a well-placed kick from Handre Pollard and minutes later Am crossed for South Africa after intercepting a Jake Polledri offload.
Another kick, this time from Willie Le Roux, set up a try for Mapimpi on 68 minutes and Snyman got the game’s sixth after Kolbe pressurized Matteo Minozzi into throwing a loose pass in front of the Italian try line.
READ: Racism allegation overshadows South Africa’s World Cup campaign
With the match all but over, Marx scored from a maul to compound Italy’s woes. The only blemish for the Springboks was that Kolbe was forced off injured at full time.
“It was pretty tough at the beginning, we knew what the challenge was going to be … we knew it was going to be a forward battle,” said South Africa captain Siya Kolisi.
“I’m really proud of the boys, we’ve been working really hard, it’s been a tough couple of weeks but the way we’ve regrouped … has been really good.”
READ: New Zealand cruises to victory over Canada
Parisse ‘really disappointed’
The result means that Pool B will likely play out as most predicted with South Africa and New Zealand topping the group and Italy finishing third in front of Canada and Namibia.
For Sergio Parisse, the Azzurri’s long-serving captain bidding to lead his country to its first World Cup quarterfinal, it was a disappointing conclusion to his 142nd Test – a milestone that puts him second in the list of all-time international appearances.
“Today we were playing against a very strong side,” Parisse said after the game.
“We tried to come back in the second half. We started well but after the penalty and the red card it was very, very difficult. Well done Springboks, they really deserved the victory today.
“We are really disappointed now so we’re going to try and go forward into next week against the All Blacks and try to finish the World Cup well.”