South Africa can expect a quality response from the Springboks when they play Tonga tonight in their final World Cup Pool B encounter at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille (9pm kick-off).
Assistant coach Mzwandile Stick says the loss to Ireland means the team understand that they could be going home if they stumble against the Pacific islanders. The defending champions are highly unlikely to lose to Tonga, but if they are not correctly focused, anything can happen.
A shock loss would open the door for Scotland to try and qualify ahead of the Boks in Pool B, along with group leaders Ireland.
“We are in a full-on Test-match mood. This could be our last media conference if we don’t win the game,” Stick said yesterday. “We’ve had a nice week of preparation. The good thing is that after the Ireland game, we had an eight-day turnaround until this game.
“Even if the result was not the one expected last week, the way we played against Ireland was good. It was probably the toughest, most beautiful game of the World Cup so far.
“But the reality is that this could be our last chance, so we are up and ready for the game.”
The Tongans have had a disappointing World Cup so far. They had heavier-than-expected losses to Ireland and Scotland, and there is a feeling that they have at least one big World Cup game in them, considering they have some very good players.
“With a guy like Ben Tameifuna there in the front row, they probably have one of the best scrums in the competition,” Stick pointed out.
“In the backline, they also have experienced star players who played for the All Blacks in the past.
“But we have picked an experienced team. Our goal is not just to handle the pressure, but also to put them under pressure. We want to be clinical. So, we’ll pitch up with the right intensity and make sure that we capitalise on our opportunities.
“That is something we did not do well against Ireland: we did not convert our entries in their 22 into points. Against Tonga, if we create those opportunities, we must make sure we convert them into points.”
First things first, the Boks need to ensure they win the game, but in the back of their minds, they know they need to score at least four tries to earn a bonus point. Scotland haven’t given up trying to finish in the top two in the pool, and if they beat Ireland – unlikely, but not impossible – bonus points could be crucial.
“Our goal is to win the game, and we’ll assess during the game if things are going well for us. We’ll probably chase a bonus point, just to be safe.”
The Bok starting line-up has been overhauled for this game, but Stick is adamant that this is no disrespect to Tonga.
“We’re trying to build strong squad depth. We don’t have any A and B… We just know that we have 33 players who can pitch up every day when they’re given an opportunity.”