VIDEO: Boks sweating over quarterfinal permutations
Defending champions South Africa will be sweating for the next week, before they find out if they have actually reached the play-offs or have been knocked out of the World Cup in pool stages for the first time.
The Springboks struggled past a bruising Tongan team in Marseille on Sunday – winning 49-18 and picking up another injury along the way.
Having gotten the win and a bonus point against Tonga, they perhaps fell short in terms of increasing their points differential significantly enough.
The Springboks now have 15 points from their four matches, but the pool winners and runners-up who advance to the quarterfinals will only be decided when Ireland – who beat the Boks 13-8 in Paris last week – take on Scotland at Stade de France this coming Saturday, with a number of permutations possible.
“The reality is, any one of the three teams – ourselves [South Africa], Ireland and Scotland – can still miss out,” the coach told a post-match media briefing.
“All three can also still make it.”
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The Springboks now have 15 points with Ireland sitting with 14 points and Scotland in third with 10 points.
South Africa’s final position in the pool will depend on the result of the Stade de France face-off between Ireland and Scotland.
One of the disappointing aspects of the win for the Boks is that they could only manage a 31-point winning margin.
It gives them a points difference of 117, which is five short of the Irish.
There is one way the Boks can miss out on a quarterfinal spot.
Scotland will need to beat Ireland with a bonus point and by more than 20 as well as Ireland getting a bonus point for scoring four tries in the same match.
Nienaber said he does not believe Ireland and Scotland would ‘conspire’ to fabricate a result and scenario where both teams would score enough points to knock South Africa out.
(WATCH as Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber explains why his team is not yet guaranteed a place in the World Cup quarterfinals…)
“That would be match-fixing, would it not,” a perplexed Bok coach said – adding it would be extremely disappointing should anyone consider it.
The Springboks will now take a mini three-day break before starting preparations for a potential quarterfinal match.
“The positive is it is pretty much similar to what we experienced in 2019 when we also finished our pool quite early,” Nienaber said.
“I think we had a 12-13 day preparation break before we went into our quarter-final against Japan.
“It is something we have done before as a group. It worked out well for us back then so we’ll give them two-three days off and then start preparing.
“Until we know what the outcome is of the pool and who we will face – the France New Zealand pool will only be determined on Friday before we actually know – and depending on how [Pool B] finishes, we will have a good idea of who we will play.
“I think in the first week now, give the guys some time off to get away from the game, to have a little bit of a mental break and then start focusing on what we can do better.
“So internally focusing on us on things we must improve if we want to stay in this competition until the end.”