South Africa survived an early scare to begin their international rugby season with a thumping 47-13 win against a World XV in Cape Town on Saturday.
A pair of tries from hooker Bismarck du Plessis helped the Springboks see off a star-strewn side.
From the kick-off the World XV — which included All Black legend Carl Hayman and European player of the year Steffon Armitage — quickly disabused any notion that they were at Newlands to make up the numbers.
They challenged the first South African line-out, unperturbed by the presence of reunited veterans Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield, each at two metres tall and with almost 200 Tests between them.
Matfield, 37, was making his return to the international game three years after retiring and was named interim captain in Jean de Villiers’s absence.
The World XV hit the early rucks at ferocious speed and put a startled Boks team on the back foot.
When they were awarded a penalty in the third minute, well within kicking distance, Rory Kockott — an uncapped South African who plays club rugby for Castres in the French Top 14 and will soon be eligible to play for Les Bleus — elected to put it to the corner.
A few bruising phases later the World XV’s ex-Bok lock Alistair Hargreaves spun out of a tackle and managed to ground the ball for the first try of the game.
But as the game progressed the Springboks hit their stride.
“The first half was a little bit difficult,” admitted Springbok man-of-the-match Botha, his side having led by just 18-13 at the break.
“As a Springbok side we were just happy we could get back to structure in the second half.”
Despite the early pressure, the Springboks got their break when a badly fielded box kick allowed them to counter ruck and win possession deep in World XV territory.
With the World XV defence struggling to reorganise the ball went through hands, including a delectable through the legs pass by JP Pietersen, eventually reaching Springbok all-time leading try scorer Bryan Habana who ran it in the corner.
Morne Steyn shanked the conversion wide but the Boks had the lead for the first time, 8-7.
But under severe pressure the Springbok scrum conceded a penalty which was slotted over by James O’Connor, the bad boy of Australian rugby who has refound his head and form at London Irish in the English Premiership.
Then followed some lovely open field running from Habana and eloquent passing between Willie Le Roux, Matfield and Habana, who served up an overhead pass to Botha who slid in over the line.
The sides traded penalties. But trailing 21-13 and with the Springboks gaining momentum the World XV were dealt blow when Georgian flanker Mamuka Gorgodze was shown a yellow card for a ruck infringement.
From that South Africa were able to forge a driving maul with Bismarck du Plessis setting the ball down for his first try. Steyn missed the conversion but the game was effectively beyond reach.
Du Plessis repeated his driving maul manoeuver with 10 minutes to go, with Steyn this time kicking the conversion to make it 33-13.
Two late tries from Johan Goosen and Le Roux sealed the game, the World XV’s replacement scrum-half Jimmy Cowan lucky to escape with only a yellow card late on after seeming to aim some stamps at Duane Vermeulen’s head.
The Springboks will face Wales in two-Test series beginning next weekend.