Bongi Mbonambi scored an 85th-minute try as the Springboks snatched a dramatic 29-26 win over France in Paris on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
The Boks have played their get-out-of-jail-free card in a big way. As the clock ticked past 80 minutes, they looked certain to be condemned to a disappointing defeat against France.
However, the Boks were allowed to launch one late attack. First, Aphiwe Dyantyi looked to have scored, but his try was ruled out after what was adjudged to be a forward pass from Willie le Roux.
The Boks were playing under advantage, though, and they set up a lineout once again, and this time Mbonambi scored from a beautifully set maul for the visitors to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Take a moment to consider that the Springboks trailed 23-9 just after half-time. At that point, they had a mountain to climb, but then the comeback began.
From the very next kick-off, S’bu Nkosi finished off an opportunistic try, while Handré Pollard then slotted two more penalties to suddenly make it just a one-point ball game heading into the final quarter.
There was plenty of drama to follow. Just as the Boks had fought their way back into proceedings, Baptiste Serin knocked over a 68th-minute penalty to open up a bit of breathing room for France.
Although the Boks had managed to muster very few try-scoring opportunities up to that point, they appeared to have struck straight back when Cheslin Kolbe crossed the tryline. However, a desperate last-gasp tackle knocked the ball free, and the try was ruled out.
From there, France looked certain to hold out for victory, but in the dying stages, the Boks completed a quite remarkable comeback.
Within the opening exchanges, France certainly sent out some serious warning signs through some dynamic play that left the Boks looking rather rattled in front of a vociferous home crowd that was in fine voice.
As the Springboks infringed, Serin knocked over two penalties early on, although these were cancelled out by ripostes via the boot from Pollard to even matters up at 6-6 just after the quarter-hour mark.
Pollard would edge the Boks ahead with another penalty in the 29th minute, but the visitors never looked to have any real control of proceedings as a direct approach from the well-organised French continued to stretch their defence.
Camille Lopez successfully lined up a drop goal in the 34th minute, while French captain Guilhem Guirado broke away from the back of a maul to score a decisive try before the break to send the hosts into a handy 16-9 lead.
Ultimately, it was a half that the Boks would want to forget in a hurry, having enjoyed just 35% of possession and 33% of territory, while damningly missing as many as 18 tackles.
To make matters worse, the Springboks made the worst possible start to the second half when a couple of rudimentary errors just after the restart enabled Mathieu Bastareaud to power over for France’s second try.
Yet the Boks somehow managed to steal a win from there in a quite remarkable second half.
France – Tries: Guilhem Guirado, Mathieu Bastareaud. Conversions: Baptiste Serin (2). Penalties: Serin (3). Drop goal: Camille Lopez.
Springboks – Tries: S’bu Nkosi, Bongi Mbonambi. Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (5).
France – 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Damian Penaud, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Mathieu Babillot, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Gael Fickou.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Cheslin Kolbe.
Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP Photo