SA Schools withstood a late onslaught from France U18 to record a narrow 12-5 victory in George on Tuesday.
The sides came into this contest in contrasting form. SA Schools had thrashed Wales 42-11 last Friday, while France, the European U18 champions, had suffered a surprising 15-7 defeat against England.
It was a dire affair in the first half as neither side could break each other's defence. Both teams attempted to gain the ascendancy, but it was the home side that utilised their forwards better, resulting in three kickable penalties that fullback Curwin Bosch converted to make it 9-0.
France did cross the tryline just before the break, but the final pass was forward.
Although Bosch extended the lead to 12-0 at the resumption with his fourth penalty, the second half proved to be more tense as France put SA Schools under pressure by dominating territory and possession.
The visitors came closest to scoring, but stubborn defence by scrumhalf Embrose Papier denied them. With SA Schools under pressure inside their own half, flyhalf Damian Willemse failed to clear his lines and lost the ball in contact. France's Nathan Decron secured possession and beat two defenders on his way to the line, but a desperate tackle by Papier forced the centre to knock the ball on in the in-goal area.
Their attacking approach did pay off, though, as flyhalf Thomas Darmon crashed over in the 70th minute. The conversion failed as Darmon rushed to restart the game in the dying seconds, but the hosts' tight defence came to the fore again as they ground out a victory.
Earlier in the day, England hammered SA Schools A 33-8. Flyhalf Max Malins scored two tries and nailed three conversions to guide his team to victory. Replacement outside centre Abner van Reenen scored SA Schools A's only try.
Wales U18 thumped Italy U18 32-10.
On Saturday, South Africa A meet Wales U18 at 11 am, France U18 play Italy U18 at 1 pm and South Africa face England U18 at 3 pm.
SA Schools (12) – Penalties: Curwin Bosch (4).
France (5) – Try: Thomas Darmon.
SA Schools A (8) – Try: Abner van Reenen. Penalty: Eddie Fouché.
England U18 (33) – Tries: Max Malins (2), Theo Clews, Gabriel Ibitoye, Josh Bayliss. Conversions: Malins (3), Clews.
Wales U18 (32) – TBC
Italy U18 (10) – TBC
Photo: Petri Oeschger/Gallo Images