Heyneke Meyer (Getty)
Newcastle – The unthinkable just flickered in the eyes of their fans after South Africa opened their RWC 2015 account with defeat to less-than-juggernaut Japan: would the Springboks even make the knockout phase?
It was not an unreasonable fear at the time, given just how much of a curveball that result in Brighton was, and the shambolic nature of the clear favourites’ performance on the day.
But if it helps calm some butterflies, the Boks’ handsome bounce-back and full house of five log points from the follow-up fixture against Samoa in Birmingham has them right back on track to progress to the quarter-finals.
Although they are unlikely to make the mistake of resting on their laurels at the midway point now of their supposedly “easy” Pool B, given the lingering effects of the sheer jolt from the Japan game, there is still a very good chance that South Africa would advance even if they were to suffer a tight defeat to Scotland in their third challenge at St James’ Park here on Saturday (17:45 SA time).
Frankly, they are likely to be branded favourites against the Scots by most neutrals, considering the power and precision evident from the 46-6 Samoan victory, so should well nigh ensure their onward march to the knockout phase anyway.
But even if they were to succumb, yet bank at least one bonus point for losing within a margin of seven points, a comprehensive triumph in the last outing against the United States in London -- a very likely occurrence -- really should do the qualification trick even it means the Boks would probably end a surprise second to present leaders Scotland in the group.
That is because the history of the World Cup in its current format – the same one has been applied for four tournaments now, with four pools of five teams each – provides extremely strong evidence that 13 points is a magical mark to make the quarter-final cut.
The Boks would sport that tally if they shift slightly from their current seven to eight points in Saturday’s game (that is taking a fairly bleak view of the Scotland showdown, of course) and then land a minimum of four tries in also beating the minnow USA at the Olympic Stadium.
A glance at pool play in the last three completed World Cups tells you that at least 13 points has always been a safe status for getting into the last eight.
In fact, 12 would do the trick a lot of times, although a dozen wasn’t enough in 2007 for Wales (two wins from their four matches), when they still ended their pool in third behind Australia and Fiji and went home early.
There is even the once-off case of a team sneaking into the knockouts, second in their pool, with only 11 points – France at the last jamboree in 2011 when they famously went all the way to the final and were desperately narrow losers to New Zealand.
The big redeeming feature of the Bok upset against Japan was that they still banked two log points: one for four tries and the other for ending within seven points (34-32). So it was effectively like getting a draw.
That could yet serve as a useful get-out-of-jail card for advancement even if they finish Pool B with an undesirable and very disappointing 50 percent win record.
But they will target nothing less than triumph each time against the Scots and United States to take any mathematical permutations for their quarter-final ticket right out of the equation anyway, if they possibly can ...
Here is the halfway-point Pool B log situation, with remaining matches for each team:
1 Scotland, played two, 10 points (still to play SA, Samoa)
2 South Africa, played two, 7 points (still to play Scotland, USA)
3 Samoa, played two 4 points (still to play Japan, Scotland)
4 Japan, played two, 4 points (still to play Samoa, USA)
5 USA, played two, 0 points (still to play SA, Japan)
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool games at RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers