BRYAN Habana equalled Jonah Lomu’s World Cup try-scoring record as he led South Africa into the quarter-finals with a crushing victory over the United States at the Olympic Stadium.
Former All Black Lomu stood three tries clear of Habana on 15 tries heading into the match but the winger ran over a hat-trick against a much-changed USA side as the Springboks recorded a convincing 64-0 victory to top Pool B and set up a meeting with either Wales or Australia in the last eight.
Having lost their opening fixture in a famous World Cup upset at the hands of Japan, Heyneke Meyer’s side have now truly recovered to win the group which also includes Scotland.
Damian de Allende opened the scoring before a penalty try pushed the two-time world champions further ahead before the break – with Habana’s three second-half tries added to by Bismarck Du Plessis, Jesse Kriel, Lwazi Mvovo and two from Francois Louw.
The Springboks stormed ahead after seven minutes as, either side of missed penalties from the United States, de Allende cantered through the USA defence before sprinting over for his first-ever international try.
Handre Pollard converted before South Africa-born scrum-half Niku Kruger came close to pulling the United States to within four points – only to see his penalty come back off the post.
The Americans, with 12 changes from the 39-16 defeat by Scotland, were dominating possession but could not make it count as Blaine Scully and Habana were both forced off for head injury assessments after the South Africa winger’s strong challenge.
Pollard broke free and aimed for the corner but the United States defence held firm as both Kruger and Zach Test did well to prevent Kriel scoring the second try – with the television match official ruling against the Springboks.
The USA were penalised after their scrum twice collapsed, with referee Pascal Gauzere awarding a penalty try to South Africa – with Pollard again converting.
Scully, back on having been cleared of any head injury, led a break-out close to half-time but opted to check inside rather than test his pace down the flank and he was soon swallowed up by the South Africans.
The third try came just a minute into the second half as Habana beat a marginal offside call to collect a pass from skipper Fourie du Preez for the 13th World Cup try of his career.
Hooker Du Plessis added the fourth as the USA began to toil, and Louw was next to go over.
The 32-year-old Habana ran over his second before matching Lomu’s haul of 15 World Cup tries with a simple hat-trick score moments later.
The record should have been in the bag with 13 minutes remaining but Habana fumbled when in behind – only for Louw to double up for the evening and Kriel to then push the score along even further.
Mvovo added the final try with Morne Steyn converting as the United States became the first side not to register a point in a match at this World Cup.
Afterwards, Springboks coach Meyer said: “First and foremost it sounds corny but the one thing we are getting right now is that it is better for the team than the individual.
“He [Habana] is always the guy who comes through in big games, he didn’t have a good off-season and couldn’t get going. Now he is getting momentum. I didn’t even know he had got the record, I was more focused on the game. But I’m so proud of him and it is great, he is a great ambassador for South Africa and I hope he has peaked at the right time.”
USA coach Mike Tolkin said: “First half, I was so pleased with the way our guys played. There were a lot of guys in there who hadn’t had a lot of game time and they poured their hearts out. I’m really proud.”
South Africa: le Roux, Habana, Kriel, de Allende, Mvovo, Pollard, du Preez, Mtawarira, B. du Plessis, Malherbe, Etzebeth, de Jager, Louw, Burger, Vermeulen. Subs: Serfontein for de Allende (60), Steyn for Pollard (56), Paige for du Preez (63), Nyakane for Mtawarira (56), Brits for B. du Plessis (56), du Toit for de Jager (63), Alberts for Burger (48).
USA: Scully, Thompson, Niua, A. Suniula, Test, S. Suniula, Kruger, Kilifi, Thiel, Baumann, Stanfill, Trouville, Barrett, Quill, Manoa. Subs: Wyles for Scully (70), Moeakiola for Kilifi (58), Taufetee for Thiel (72), Fenoglio for Trouville (70), McFarland for Barrett (57), Dolan for Manoa (48).