Springboks sweat on Mapimpi injury in wake of Tonga win

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2023 - Pool B - South Africa v Romania - Matmut Atlantique, Bordeaux, France - September 17, 2023 South Africa's Makazole Mapimpi scores a try REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

By Nick Said

MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) – South Africa will send wing Makazole Mapimpi for scans on a fracture to his cheek-bone in the wake of Sunday’s 49-18 victory over Tonga that took the defending champions to the brink of a Rugby World Cup quarter-final place.

Should they progress, it may be without the 2019 World Cup winner after he clashed heads with tackler Augustine Pulu in an incident that was reviewed by the Television Match Official, but not sanctioned with a yellow card.

“Makazole has a fracture of his cheekbone, so he will go for specialist scans to determine the severity of it,” Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber said after the seven-try win.

Better news for Nienaber was the return of flyhalf Handre Pollard, who played 50 minutes in his first test for 13 months. Pollard had featured for only 30 minutes for his club Leicester Tigers since May after recovering from a calf problem.

“He will get better (with more game-time), he was solid,” Nienaber said. “His ball carries were decisive, in defence he level-changed well and put some proper shoulder into his tackles. His off-the-ball work was good, as was his kicking game, both going for poles and in general play.”

The Boks won’t know if they have a quarter-final place until Scotland meet Ireland in Paris next Saturday, but it looks likely they will progress from Pool B, which would mean a two-week break before their knockout stage fixture.

Nienaber does not mind some time away from the game and said it was similar to when they lifted the trophy in Japan four years ago.

“We also finished our pool quite early and we had a 12 or 13 day preparation break before the quarter-final against Japan,” he said.

“It is something we have done before and it worked well back then. We will give the players two to three days off, a mental break, and then start preparing and see what we can do better if we want to stay in this competition to the end.”

The Boks conceded three tries in a World Cup match for the first time since their stunning loss to Japan in 2015, a run of 17 games, but Nienaber was not concerned.

“From a defensive point of view, I am very proud. If you look at the attitude of the defence against a Tonga side that have got better as the tournament has progressed, it was there and the boys put in a big shift. Sometimes you just have to applaud the opposition.”

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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