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South Africa tops Pool B, Habana ties Lomu’s World Cup mark

October 7, 2015

LONDON (AP) — Bryan Habana equaled Jonah Lomu’s record of 15 Rugby World Cup tries when he crossed for a hat trick that helped South Africa to a 64-0 win over the United States on Wednesday and secured top spot in Pool B.

His three were among 10 tries for the Springboks in an emphatic conclusion to a pool stage that started with their shocking loss to Japan.

South Africa needed a bonus-point win to top the group, and was halfway there with a 14-0 lead despite an error-prone first half at halftime after Damian de Allende’s opener in the seventh minute, and a penalty try from sustained forward pressure in the 27th.

It all happened quickly in the second half, with Habana swooping on a perfectly placed grubber kick toward the in-goal from skipper Fourie du Preez just 62 seconds after the break, and adding two more tries, untouched, in the 59th and 61st minutes to lift his career tally to 15 and equal the tournament record mark set by Lomu.

Habana said he was humbled to equal the All Blacks great, who scored 15 tries across the 1995 and ’99 World Cups in South Africa and Britain.

“Really fantastic to equal the record but, for me, more humbling than ever,” said Habana, who was at his third World Cup and was part of the 2007 winning team. “I don’t think I can ever equate myself to Jonah and what he was able to do for the game. It’s a massive honor and privilege to even be seen in the same record books as him.”

Habana could have broken the record, but knocked-on close to the line.

“He will be more disappointed that he didn’t finish when he had the chance to score for the team rather than break a record,” Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer said. “I am so proud of him — not just as a rugby player but as a human being as well. He is a great ambassador for South Africa.”

Habana also joined Australia great David Campese at No. 2 on the all-time list of test tries with his 64th, from 114 test matches.

Habana’s first try on Wednesday made the score 21-0, and when hooker Bismarck du Plessis burrowed over from a close-range ruck six minutes later, the match was all but over.

Back-rower Schalk Burger, who equaled John Smit’s South Africa record of 17 Rugby World Cup matches, promptly left the field to avoid injury ahead of the quarterfinals.

A procession of tries ensued.

Blindside flanker Francois Louw also scored twice, outside center Jesse Kriel strolled through some tiring defense in the middle, and winger Lwazi Mvovo finished off a counter-attacking try deep in injury time to inflate the margin — making it the biggest win at this tournament.

They were intent on attacking and spreading the ball wide in the first half, and put down a series of chances against a gritty defensive effort from a U.S. lineup missing some key front-line players who were being saved for the last pool game against Japan on Sunday.

Japan is still in contention for a quarterfinal spot for the first time, and is vying for second spot in the pool with Scotland, which closes against Samoa.

The Americans were competitive in the first half and missed two shots at goal, one cluttering into the left upright.

“In the first half I was so pleased with the way our guys played. They just poured their hearts out,” U.S. coach Mike Tolkin said. “Once the Springboks got going, it really wore our guys down quickly.”

Tolkin lamented the schedule that meant he had to hold back some of his top players against one of the best teams in the world so he could focus on a more winnable match four days later against a fellow second-tier team.

“It would have been interesting to see what a full (U.S.) side would have done against the Springboks,” he said, adding that after tests against New Zealand, Australia, and now South Africa in the last two years, his players were learning what it took to compete at the highest level: “They aren’t superhuman, and it’s important for our guys to see that. We are developing a belief the more we play the top teams.”

After a short turnaround following the win over Scotland on Saturday, the Springboks get a long break until the quarterfinals, where they’ll meet the loser of Saturday’s Pool A match between Australia and Wales.

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