The Springboks – who beat Tonga by 49-18 – currently lead Pool B with 15 points, although they’ve played one more match than Ireland (in second place with 14 points) and Scotland (in third place with 10 points), with those teams yet to face one another in their final pool match on Saturday, 7 October.
All three teams are still in the quarter-final race, with one set to drop out of the competition at the conclusion of the pool stages.
“The key for us was to win first and then get the bonus point and we managed to get that early in the second half, then we chased points as much as we could,” said Nienaber.
“As things stand now, one of South Africa, Ireland and Scotland will miss out on the quarter-final, but all three can still make it. The pool will only be decided on Saturday.”
The Boks scored seven tries to three and given the physicality of the match, Nienaber was pleased with his team’s defensive effort.
“From a defensive point of view, I’m proud,” said Nienaber.
“We don’t see it as a negative. The team showed great attitude on defence against a Tongan team that got better as the tournament progressed, and I feel the guys put in a great shift in their physicality on defence.”
Such was the physicality of the match and the importance of earning a bonus-point victory, Kolisi said earning his 50th cap as the Springbok captain was the last thing on his mind.
“The only thing I was thinking about was the physicality of the match,” said Kolisi.
“They were tough. We knew they would run hard at us, and they never stopped. I applaud the boys for sticking to the plan. We got the bonus point, and we accumulated as much points as we could.”
Nienaber delivered bad news on the injury front, saying wing Makazole Mapimpi suffered a cheek injury in the match.
“Makazole has a fractured cheekbone, so he’ll go for scans on Monday to determine the seriousness of the injury,” said Nienaber.
With a week off before the team knows their fate in the competition, and another week before the quarter-final, Nienaber said it was not unchartered territory for the Boks.
“It’s a positive for us in that it was similar to our 2019 campaign,” said Nienaber.
“We also finished the pool stages early and had a 12 or 13 day break, so we’ve done it before as a team.
“We’ll give the players two or three days off to get away from rugby and have a mental break, and then work on the things we can do better to stay in the competition until the end.
“We’ll only know the outcome of the France and New Zealand pool on Friday and our pool on Saturday, and then we’ll know which teams will face one another.”