SHINJUOKA, Japan -- A Springboks pack intent on dishing out as much physical aggression as possible awaits the winners of Rugby World Cup Pool A in the quarterfinals, though South Africa must find some serious attacking improvement if they're to be genuine contenders to win the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time.
The Springboks eased to a 49-3 victory over Italy at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on Friday, a result that all but secured them second spot in Pool B save for an almighty slip-up against Canada next week.
Their second pool victory was built on a ferocious first-half defensive effort that repelled a stagnant Italian attack, the Azzuri marched backwards 20 metres on more than one occasion as green jersey after green jersey hurled itself into contact.
The likes of Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermeulen and Peter-Steph du Toit all left an impact on the often hapless Italian ball-carriers, who broke the line only when the match deteriorated into the comical after halftime.
But on a night when Italian replacement Andrea Lovotti added his name to the list of rugby's all-time dumb plays, the Springboks' lack of attacking polish was there for all to see.
When South Africa should have ripped Italy apart with ruthless precision following Lovotti's dismissal -- which came after he inexplicably picked Vermeulen up and drove the Springboks number eight into the turf on his head, just as Italy had enjoyed their best moment of the match, and were about to get a penalty -- the Springboks instead continued their clunky efforts of the first half.
While the Boks' defence was brutally effective, their attack lacked the execution and skill it will need if they're to negotiate what could be a tricky quarter- and semifinal to earn another shot at the All Blacks -- which is only possible should both sides reach the final.
"It definitely wasn't perfect," Erasmus said after the game.
"I think one of the things we tried to do today was the 6-2 split, forwards versus backs, was to really get a physical performance out there.
"I think back and there were definitely, tactically and technically, some mistakes and errors, but I thought the way the guys physically did what we wanted to get out of this game.
"I think if we, as South Africans want to go all the way, that's something [physicality] that we need in our game. We felt that in the previous five or six Test matches that we played this year, it wasn't really consistent. I thought in this specific test match, our physicality -- which is one of our strengths -- was very consistent through the game, and I am really proud about that."
The conditions may have been blustery but there is no excusing the simple turnovers coughed up by the usually reliable Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk, particularly given the platform the duo worked off for much of the match.
And they must find a way to get dynamite winger Cheslin Kolbe more ball. The Springboks flyer looks dangerous every time he is in the game; the only problem is, that is nowhere near as often as it should be. After two tries, and only a desperate tackle away from a hat-trick, Kolbe was still a worthy man-of-the-match winner on Friday.
The fact that South Africa could muster only five tries against outmatched opponents who played 40 minutes with only 14 men -- Kolbe's second try, via a Pollard cross-kick; two simple efforts from Italian turnovers; another kick-generated try; and one final driving maul five-pointer -- suggests they are lacking the retention and execution they will need to worry's the world's best in a fortnight's time and beyond.
Erasmus made the point that his side was scoring points in other ways -- such as the rolling maul, twice -- though that is sugarcoating what were, outside of Kolbe's efforts, otherwise essentially hap-hazard five-point returns.
They have the chance to solidify those missing attributes, against Canada on Tuesday, before the quarterfinals, where any of Japan, Ireland and Scotland will lie in wait. On their day, the Springboks have more than enough firepower up front to handle each of those sides, but they require far better clarity on their attacking strategy and execution to be sure that physical dominance generates full capital.
As for Bottani's red card, there is no better way to describe it other than completely idiotic.
Referee Wayne Barnes could have so easily also handed the same punishment to Bottani's front-row colleague Nicola Quaglio, as he was just as much involved in the utter stupidity as his fellow prop.
That Italy had already lost two front-rowers in the first half to injury, forcing the match into uncontested scrums, only added to the bewildering conduct of the duo who turned a genuine chance for the Azzurri to give the Springboks the wobbles into a gift-wrapped bonus-point victory.
The spear tackle on Vermeulen after the whistle was nothing short of disgraceful. Bottani will rightly receive a hefty suspension as a result, and if World Rugby's citing process continues as it has then so in all likelihood will Quaglio.
"The first thing is all of us are destroyed," Italy coach Conor O'Shea said.
"South Africa were stronger than us today.
"At 17-3 we made this line-break and then something inexplicable happened, and after the red card the match was over.
"We'd already lost two players [props Simone Ferrari and Marco Riccioni] in the first half. We said before the match that we had to do everything perfectly. We came in with confidence. You prepare for a lot of eventualities but you can't prepare for that.
"If we'd scored, you'd ask a question in the back of their minds. This wasn't them coming to Italy in the autumn, this was them coming at us when we stood in their way [of reaching the quarterfinals]."