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Gary Lemke

The day Boks embarrassed France


Springbok wing Pieter Rossouw scored four tries against France Springbok wing Pieter Rossouw scored four tries against France

This was the day that everything clicked for the Springboks in a 52-10 win in Paris, writes GARY LEMKE.

After a depressing 2-1 series defeat to the British & Irish Lions in 1997, the Boks had closed out the Tri-Nations in August with a 61-22 demolition of Australia at Loftus. That was not enough so save Carel du Plessis’ job as coach and he was replaced by Nick Mallett.

His first assignment was on the end-of-year tour and Mallett eased into the job against Italy in Bologna on 8 November. There the Boks stretched away after half-time to win 62-31 before beating France 36-32 in a thriller in Lyon. Their next match was at the Parc de Princes, in what was to be the last match that the French would play in the famous old concrete citadel.

This had been the French home since 1906 and 91 years of history was coming to an end. The Boks reckoned that the hosts would be up for the fight, given the close result of a week earlier and the occasion.

It was never a contest.

In front of a 35,000-strong crowd, the Boks raced into a 28-3 lead by half-time and in total scored seven tries – four in that first half – in this runaway 52-10 success. It was the heaviest defeat the French had ever suffered. Wing Pieter Rossouw enjoyed a field day, crossing the line four times, while Henry Honiball, André Snyman and Gary Teichmann all got in on the try-scoring act. For good measure Honiball slotted all seven conversations as well as adding a penalty for 22 points of his own.

France’s points came from a late try to replacement hooker Raphael Ibanez and a conversion and penalty from centre Christophe Lamaison.

There was a gulf in thought and pace as a fine generation of French players were exposed as past their best when the Springboks ran at them from every corner of the ground. The French captain Philippe Saint-André said: ‘We can no longer call on the old qualities of courage and solidarity. The southern hemisphere players are, today, faster and more resistant to the tackle. When we build two phases of play they’re capable of five or six in a row.’

The performance left a big impression on the French fans who stood and applauded as the Bok players did a lap of honour.

The Boks were hitting their straps. The week after routing France in Paris they hopped across the Channel and silenced 75,000 fans at Twickenham with a 29-11 victory. It was the biggest defeat England had ever suffered at their fortress. Scotland too were blown away, 68-10, with 54 points coming in the second half. It too was Scotland’s biggest-ever defeat. Boks fans had plenty to celebrate that Christmas.

With Mallett at the helm, there was plenty more to come. In 1998 the Springboks went unbeaten as they won the Tri-Nations and they chalked up a staggering 17 successive Test victories, equalling the world record, until losing in the last match of the year, to England.

Springbok team vs France in 1997 – 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 James Small, 13 André Snyman, 12 Dick Muir, 11 Pieter Rossouw (Jannie de Beer, 79), 10 Henry Honiball, 9 Werner Swanepoel, 8 Gary Teichmann (c), 7 André Venter, 6 Rassie Erasmus (Andrew Aitken, 48), 5 Mark Andrews, 4 Krynauw Otto, 3 Adrian Garvey, 2 James Dalton, 1 Os du Randt.

Photo: Phil Cole/Getty Images

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