All of South Africa’s plans came together at the Rugby World Cup this morning.
The first objective was achieved in a thumping 76-0 win over underdog Romania, with hat tricks by halfback Cobus Reinach and wing Makazole Mapimpi among the Springboks’ 12 tries without reply in Bordeaux.
The Springboks had the first four of their tries and a bonus point inside 12 minutes, and Reinach sniped from close-in for his third try in the 24th minute to just miss his own record for the fastest hat trick at the Rugby World Cup. He set that four years ago with three in 20 minutes against Canada.
South Africa went over five times in the first half and seven times in the second to dismantle the underdog Romanians in a Pool B match that was one-sided from the start.
Away from the convincing result, the defending champion also made big gains with a series of experiments. At least one of them might have a significant impact for the business end of the tournament, starting with South Africa’s next pool game, a huge showdown with top-ranked Ireland next weekend.
Grant Williams, a halfback playing as a starting wing against the Romanians, showed his searing pace to collect two tries in the second half. Faf de Klerk, yet another scrumhalf showing his versatility, came on as flyhalf and ran the Springboks backline for the last 24 minutes.
And Deon Fourie, a flanker who was switched to reserve hooker, came off the bench to mark his Rugby World Cup debut at the age of 36 with a try in the middle of a rolling maul two minutes after he arrived at halftime. Fourie also hit his lineout jumpers and was in the midst of the scrum that won a penalty try soon after.
That might be a significant detail of South Africa’s powerful and widely expected win considering the loss of Malcolm Marx to a tournament-ending injury in the week.
Bongi Mbonambi, who started and was captain against Romania, is the only specialist No. 2 in the squad. Fourie, once a hooker in the early days of his career, might be expected to back up Mbonambi for the rest of the tournament with strong speculation that coach Jacques Nienaber is about to call up flyhalf Handre Pollard and not a hooker as an injury replacement for Marx.
Another flanker, Marco van Staden, has also been practicing at hooker and threw into the South Africa lineout for the last 10 minutes.
Against Romania, South Africa made 14 player changes to the team that ran on for its opening 18-3 win against Scotland last weekend but still started with eight Rugby World Cup winners from the 2019 squad, including Reinach and Mapimpi.
Reinach darted off the back of a scrum, threw a dummy and drifted through a gap for the first try in the third minute and the Springboks were away. Mapimpi had his first in the seventh when cutting back in from the left wing to take a pass from fullback Willie le Roux.
After Reinach’s second, flyhalf Damian Willemse, the only surviving starter from Scotland, stepped and burst down the middle for the bonus-point try and 26-0 as the clock hit 12 minutes.
Going faster than a point a minute, South Africa was slowed by a burst of torrential rain from midway through the first half.
Romania had one of its best moments in that downpour when center Taylor Gontineac made as good a run as his team had all day down the right wing. Gontineac’s father, Romeo, is a former Romania captain who played when the teams last met at the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.
The French skies cleared at halftime allowing South Africa to find its rhythm again, and Fourie made his immediate impact, followed by a penalty try, a double by Williams, two more from Mapimpi and a breezy 50-meter run by le Roux to cap the victory.
Get full coverage of the Rugby World Cup.