By Andy Capostagno
Conspiracy theories aside, South Africa’s bonus point win against Tonga in Marseilles on Sunday night clinches a probable quarter-final with France in two weeks.
Ireland plays Scotland in Paris next Saturday in a game viewed long before the tournament began, as a straight knockout.
It remains that way, even though there is a mathematical chance that both Ireland and Scotland could qualify at the expense of South Africa.
For that to happen, Scotland needs to win by at least 21 points, while Ireland requires a four-try bonus point.
If that happens all three teams would have 15 log points and Ireland would progress at the expense of the Springboks because the first tiebreaker is who beat who in Pool play.
Asked about a scenario where Scotland and Ireland might conjure an improbable scoreline, Bok coach Jacques Nienaber told a media conference in Marseilles, “That would be match-fixing, would it not?” Indeed it would, and while it is not impossible, it remains very, very improbable.
The Bok management is certain enough of their fate that they have given the players three days off to recharge their batteries.
When they return to camp, the rest of the week will probably be spent in the gym and studying match footage.
That’s because the draw has given the Boks a much gentler schedule to the knockout stages than any other team. They have finished pool play a week earlier than the other likely quarter-finalists, effectively having a fortnight to prepare and rest.
Ireland, by contrast, might reap the whirlwind of selection consistency, with too much game time given to key players. They have now run out of road and will need their full-strength selection against Scotland.
Meanwhile, the Boks have been able to put half a dozen key players in cotton wool. Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Damian De Allende, Damian Willemse and Cheslin Kolbe were all spectators at the Tonga match and will be fresh for the knockout stages.
To the other teams in the last eight, this might seem like cheating but it’s not, of course. It’s playing the cards cleverly, just like replacing an injured hooker with a flyhalf and loading a bench with seven forwards.
Pictured above: Springboks in action against Tonga