Cape Town - South Africa have a reasonably comforting 66.66 percent win record in World Cup quarter-finals … something that will swell to 71.42 if the widely-deemed favourites overcome host nation Japan in Tokyo on Sunday (12:15 kick-off SA time).
The Springboks have won four of their six “last eight” dates at the tournaments to this point, never having been eliminated at the pool stage.
There have been cheers, tears and some fierce debating points for Bok supporters along the way; here is a short recap (from most recent) of all our RWC quarter-finals …
2015: South Africa 23 Wales 19 (London)
This was as tense a quarter-final as you could get for a Bok team who had done well to claw their way back to serious contenders – Heyneke Meyer’s charges would eventually earn bronze – after the early Brighton fiasco against Japan.
The Boks were trailing 19-18 going into the last five minutes at Twickenham, when Duane Vermeulen broke on the blindside off an attacking Bok scrum and veteran scrumhalf Fourie du Preez ran onto his deft pass with exquisite timing to bamboozle the Welsh defence and dot the decisive try.
A hugely relieved Meyer was later quoted as saying Du Preez had been responsible for “pure genius … I would like to kiss Fourie!”
The Boks were also indebted to Handre Pollard’s haul of 18 points from five penalties and a dropped goal.
2011: South Africa 9 Australia 11 (Wellington)
Yes, the “Bryce Lawrence” match: where the New Zealand referee’s handling of the fixture came under so much fire from South Africans, and many neutrals as well.
Brendan Gallagher of the Daily Telegraph in London, for example, wrote that his “laissez-faire control of the breakdown … saw (Wallaby fetcher) David Pocock appear to get away with offending at will”.
In truth, the superior Boks – in John Smit’s last match both as illustrious captain and player – should have done enough anyway to ensure the outcome going their way: they had hogged some 76 percent of territory, and Victor Matfield was colossal at the lineout, yet butchered some infrequent scoring chances.
The normally deadeye Morne Steyn also only managed a two-from-four penalty record off the kicking tee.
Truly a case of what might have been, in a game where Aussie lock James Horwill’s lone try as early as the 11th minute would ultimately prove pivotal …
2007: South Africa 37 Fiji 20 (Marseille)
South Africa’s much-trumpeted “easy route” through the knockouts (Fiji at this stage, then Argentina in the semis) undoubtedly went at least some way to ensuring their second-time Webb Ellis Cup success, in France.
But the score-line against the Pacific Islanders was nevertheless deceptive, as this typically uncompromising tussle was a nail-biter for much of its duration.
Oddly, the Fijians’ spirited second-half fightback – from 6-20 to 20-20 at one point – coincided with having a man in the sin bin; they scored two tries with 14 players on the park.
But with blindside flanker Juan Smith routinely to the fore, Jake White’s charges kept their heads sufficiently to eventually romp clear, earning five tries to two against a team who had earlier shocked Wales 38-34 in the pool stage to knock out the more fancied scarlets.
2003: South Africa 9 New Zealand 29 (Melbourne)
The Boks’ lamest World Cup yet? Almost certainly.
This Rudolf Straeuli-era side, not long after the major Kamp Staaldraad scandal, had ended runners-up in their pool after a comprehensive 25-6 reverse to eventual champions England.
Come the quarter-final, they were similarly seen off with unpalatable comfort by old enemies the All Blacks, despite that country arguably not having its finest vintage in personnel, either, at the time.
NZ prevailed by three tries to nil, the Boks managing only two penalties and a drop from 20-year-old flyhalf Derick Hougaard.
While SA had fielded a few of the players who would go on to become 2007 legends, the likes of lock pairing Matfield and Bakkies Botha were still a little too raw at this level at the time -- only showing what a difference four years can make.
1999: South Africa 44 England 21 (Paris)
Cometh the hour, cometh … Jannie de Beer.
On a record-breaking day for a Welkom-born, deeply religious flyhalf who might not have played but for Henry Honiball’s problematic hamstring, De Beer made the crucial difference with his personal feast of 34 points, setting a new Bok landmark.
Even more memorably, the bumper tally included a stunning, new global Test best of five dropped goals … virtually all sweetly struck and landed in an unforgettable 31-minute period of the second half.
They were critical, too, because this match – only 2-0 in the try column, both to the Boks – was dominated by kickers on both sides and the scoreboard only blew out quite late on: it had been a tantalising 25-21 in favour of Nick Mallett’s charges with just 10 minutes to go.
Current Bok coach Rassie Erasmus had been on the side of the Bok scrum that day, and widely credited with a strong defensive role whenever the Boks were under the cosh.
1995: South Africa 42 Samoa 14 (Johannesburg)
The reasonably unfancied Samoans had reached the last eight courtesy of a plucky second-placed finish in their pool behind only England, having eclipsed Argentina and Italy to a “KO” berth.
Earlier thumped 60-8 by the Boks in a pre-RWC clash at the very same Ellis Park, this bruising quarter-final – featuring a few wild Samoan tackles – was a bit more competitive, though Francois Pienaar’s charges and later so memorable title-winners still bossed it comfortably in the final analysis.
South Africa ran in six tries (to two) and there were stories behind all of them: the major one was Chester Williams’ return.
The only player of colour in the SA side of the time, he had been injured ahead of RWC ’95 but earned his ticket back (from the so-timely last eight onwards) because of Pieter Hendriks’ suspension after the “Battle of Boet Erasmus” against Canada.
Williams duly celebrated with a dazzling four-try haul, setting a Bok record that lasted two years before Pieter Rossouw equalled it (Tonderai Chavhanga later pressed six tries against Uruguay in 2005).
The other try-scorers were hooker Chris Rossouw -- similarly benefitting from first-choice James “Bullet” Dalton’s post-PE ban – and lock Mark Andrews, playing his last tournament game at lock before Kitch Christie daringly switched him to No 8 for both the semi (France) and the showpiece (New Zealand).
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