The Springboks powered their way to a 35-12 win and 3-0 series whitewash of France on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI at Ellis Park.
The Boks deserve credit for punishing a weak and tactically limited France and recording three convincing wins. They deserve plaudits for the manner in which they defended across this series, even in the final game where nothing was at stake.
On Saturday, the Boks suffered a major setback two hours prior to kickoff. Captain and starting No 8 Warren Whiteley was forced to withdraw due to a groin injury. Eben Etzebeth was asked to lead the South African side in Whiteley’s absence, while Jean-Luc du Preez was moved to No 8 and Jaco Kriel into the starting lineup at blindside flank.
Kriel lent the Boks plenty of impetus as a ball-carrier in the wider channels, while Etzebeth made some good decisions when the hosts were awarded penalties in France territory. Siya Kolisi and Jan Serfontein produced influential performances at the breakdown. Overall, the Boks’ thumping defence forced the visitors to spill the ball regularly.
Debutant Ruan Dreyer was penalised at the scrum on several occasions. Malcolm Marx battled to find his jumpers at the lineout, although with Whiteley out and the likes of Kolisi, Kriel and Du Preez starting in the back row, the hooker’s options were severely limited.
The Boks fired in patches. They burned white hot in the buildup to the game’s first try, with forwards and backs combining to create and finish clinically. Elton Jantjies looked up to see the space behind the France defensive line, and kicked for his backs to chase.
Serfontein flew up to apply the pressure, and then the support arrived to muscle France off the ball. The turnover was made and the ball shifted quickly to Jesse Kriel, who did well to finish in the right-hand corner.
The Boks kept the scoreboard ticking over through the boot of Jantjies. Poor discipline cost them at the other end, though, and Jules Plisson’s three penalties ensured that the scoreline (16-9) was close at half-time.
The Boks made a statement early in the second stanza when they turned down a relatively easy shot at goal. At the ensuing lineout, which involved Bok backs as well as forwards, Serfontein was lifted to receive the ball. Before France knew what was happening, the ball had been transferred and Etzebeth was over the line for a crucial try.
Again, this level of innovation and execution was the exception rather than the norm at Ellis Park on Saturday. France were poor, and the Boks lost concentration at times to concede possession and penalties.
This was not surprising, given that the Boks had little to play for in the context of the series. But it's certainly something they will need to address going into the Rugby Championship.
Plisson kicked a penalty in the 57th minute to reduce the deficit to nine points. It was at this point that the effect of altitude, and perhaps the effect of a long European season, began to take its toll on the French.
Pieter-Steph du Toit and Steven Kitshoff made an impact off the bench in the final quarter, and were prominent in the buildup to Marx’s try. Deafening chants of ‘Olé, olé, olé,’ rang around Ellis Park as Jantjies added the extras to steer the hosts into a comfortable 16-point lead.
France had an opportunity to score via their rolling maul late in the game. The Bok defence was equal to the task, though, stopping the French in their tracks and then forcing a turnover.
The hosts finished strongly, winning a penalty and kicking to touch in the 75th minute. A powerful run by Bongi Mbonambi compromised the France defence. The reserve hooker did well to offload to Rudy Paige, who spun through a couple of defenders before crashing over for the Boks’ fourth try.
Springboks – Tries: Jesse Kriel, Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx. Rudy Paige. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3). Penalties: Jantjies (3).
France – Penalties: Jules Plisson (4).
Springboks – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Jean-Luc du Preez, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth (c), 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Lood de Jager, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds.
France – 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Nans Ducuing, 13 Damian Penaud, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Clement Maynadier, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Francois Trinh Duc, 23 Vincent Rattez.
Photo: Marco Longari/AFP Photo