Springboks squeak past feisty France
What a difference a week makes! The black South African rugby week ended with a warm green-and-gold glow. It may have been by just one point. Less than one point would have done if that could have produced a win. Such is South African hunger for a win. And they deserved the win – their sixth against France in the last six matches between the two countries.
South Africa scored 18 points, despite missing 11 points from missed kicks at goal. France missed two kicks and ended with 17 points, one fewer than they scored against New Zealand last week. 18 is more than the 0 the Springboks scored last week.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
The first half of the first half was a vast improvement as the Springboks looked energetic and creative. And France, too, were creative and energetic. From the kick off there were three minutes of nonstop rugby, ending in a line-out. It was all so vigorous that in that time France lost lock Paul Gabrillagues to injury and Louis Picamoles and Kevin Gourdon had to have ankles attended to.
From the first scrum of the match, the Springboks ran. Courtnall Skosan broke, then Siya Kolisi broke and then Marx, Vermeulen and Kolisi were close. The ball went wide right and Dillyn Leyds forced his way over in Antoine du Pont's tackle for a try about 10 metres in from touch. 5-0 after 6 minutes.
The Springboks looked like a team eager to attack and carried on running till Mathieu Bastareaud tackled high and Pollard goaled a long kick from an acute angle. It did not look like missing. 8-0 after 17 minutes.
The Springboks' ambitions were tempered by some poor passing and kicks that transferred possession, and France came more and more into the picture.
Young flyhalf Anthony Belleau kicked, three Springboks let the ball bounce, substitute Paul Jedrasiak got the ball and the French attacked, going right. They went through phases till Belleau handed off Jesse Kriel and scored under the posts. 8-7 after 28 minutes.
France were on defence when Leyds charged a clearing kick. The ball flew off him into touch well inside the French 22. France took a quick throw-in and immediately went onto the attack, such was the keenness to attack even if rain started falling.
Pollard missed two kicks at goal just before half-time and at the first penalty of the second half, in a kickable position, he kicked for touch.
France got into South Africa's half and Belleau gave France the lead with a penalty for a high tackle. 10-8 after 47-minutes. A half-an-hour later France scored again.
At this stage Steven Kitshoff replaced Tendai Mtawarira, and Gourdon limped off with his sore ankle, replaced by Anthony Jelonch. Later Antoine Dupont, who had not been nearly as lively as he had been against New Zealand, was replaced by Baptiste Serin.
Serin did not cover himself in glory. The Springboks were attacking down the right. Marx was in support but Serin grabbed his jersey from behind. This earned him a yellow card and South Africa three points from the penalty, giving them back the lead at 11-10 after 58 minutes.
On the Springbok left, Cronje set Marx pounding downfield for a highly profitable Springbok attack. Kolisi carried it on and the Springboks were close. Lood de Jager, Kitshoff and Wilco Louw got even closer till Eben Etzebeth held onto a low pass as they went right. From him the ball bounced on to Kriel who swirled away from Yoann Huget and dotted down neatly. The French were appealing for a knock-on and the referee referred to the TMO. Replays showed that Etzebeth had not passed forward but Nans Ducuing had knocked the ball forward from Etzebeth's hands. The try stood, converted by Pollard. 18-10 with 18 minutes to play.
The Springbok forwards were now playing directly and with energy.
With eight minutes to play, Belleau missed with a penalty attempt.
Dan du Preez came on for the Springboks, earning his first cap. His twin brother, Jean-Luc, was already a Springbok, and they became just the second set of twins to play for South Africa, after the Ndungane twins.
France advanced with urgent phases. Judicael Cancoriet and Huget were close and then Serin plunged a few centimetres to score a try which Belleau converted. 18-17 with three minutes to play.
Soon after the kick-off the Springboks got possession and played keepball till time was up.
It was an intense game but not a particularly entertaining one. Springbok supporters would gladly swap entertainment for the relief of winning .
Man of the Match: Hard. It was not a day for stars but our choice is a surprise one, to us at least – Ross Cronje. It was his best game in a Springbok jersey and he was courageous well beyond his size, fearing nobody.
Moment of the Match: Jesse Kriel's try from Malcolm Marx's charge to the surprise ending.
Villain of the Match: Nobody at all.
Tries: Belleau, Serin
Cons: Belleau 2
For South Africa:
Tries: Leyds, Kriel
Pens: Pollard 2
Yellow card: Baptiste Serin (France, 58 – cynical infringement, early tackle)
France: 15 Nans Ducuing, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Mathieu Bastareaud, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Judicael Cancoriet, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Clément Maynadier, 17 Sébastien Taofifenua, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Anthony Jelonch, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Damian Penaud.
South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Daniel du Preez, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian de Allende.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Tom Foley (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)