LONDON • South Africa's hat-trick try hero Bryan Habana warned the Springboks are getting stronger with every game as he celebrated the 64-0 World Cup thrashing of the United States on Wednesday.
His second-half treble saw him equal Jonah Lomu's record of 15 World Cup tries as South Africa booked their quarter-final place.
The 2007 World Cup winner was on the field as the Springboks were beaten 32-34 by Japan in their opening Pool B match.
But he expressed pride at the way in which South Africa bounced back with wins over Samoa, Scotland and the US to top the group.
"We took a bit of a tumble that first week against Japan so the last three weeks have been important as to how we've responded," said Habana. "We've raised the intensity and physicality, week on week."
The Springboks were 14-0 up at half-time, thanks to centre Damian de Allende's maiden international try and a penalty try off a scrum.
But the second half saw South Africa score eight tries as they added 50 more points.
"The first half, we couldn't get going and made one or two errors but the second-half performance was as polished as I've been involved in with a Bok team," said Habana, a veteran of 114 Tests.
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer had plenty to be pleased about as his side gave a brutal demonstration of their firepower while showing their defensive qualities.
MOSTWORLD CUP TRIES
15 Bryan Habana* (South Africa)
15 Jonah Lomu (New Zealand)
13 Doug Howlett (New Zealand)
11 Drew Mitchell* (Australia)
"We did not give away a try, you have to win World Cups with defence. One try in (our) last three games, and that was an interception (against Scotland)," he said.
"I'm proud of the guys, we mauled well and scrummed well. We stuck to our game plan.
"That's Springboks rugby, that's power rugby.
"We need to keep our feet on the ground and stay humble but at stages we played some great rugby."
South Africa will face the losers of the Pool A encounter between Australia and Wales tomorrow.
"The hard work really starts now," added Habana, who has helped French club Toulon win the last two European Cups.
He could have beaten Lomu's record but, with 13 minutes left, botched what would have been his fourth try with a knock-on.
He remains level with Australia great David Campese's 64 in Tests but is fast catching the overall record of 69 held by Japan's Daisuke Ohata.
"Fluffing an opportunity to score a try at any time is never ideal," said the 32-year-old.
"But equalling Jonah Lomu's record is a truly humbling fact.
"I said in 2007 that I don't think I can ever be compared to Jonah. The way he changed the game, he was a class act. He did it in two tournaments, it's taken me three.
"He became the first global superstar the game produced and I've got an unbelievable amount of respect for him."
The Americans were on the wrong end of the record books on Wednesday.
It was the first time a team had failed to score at this World Cup and the most lopsided match of the tournament so far.
US coach Mike Tolkin blamed a schedule which sees his side having to play Japan in their final pool match on Sunday. "It is hard to take when you have to make a line-up based on a few days' rest and I am sure Rugby World Cup will look at this after the tournament."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS