The Springboks beat France 37-14 on Saturday to take a 1-0 lead in the series and end their four-game losing run, reports JON CARDINELLI at Loftus Versfeld.
Coach Allister Coetzee and his beleaguered charges will breathe a collective sigh of relief. After eight long months, they have finally finished a game on the right side of the result. After four Tests, they have a win to their names.
At the same time, they should know that they have much to rectify ahead of the second Test of this series. The Boks battled for as many as 60 minutes of the contest at Loftus. The complexion of the game changed thereafter when France fullback Brice Dulin was yellow-carded in somewhat controversial circumstances.
Prior to that questionable decision by the officials, the game was in the balance, with the Boks holding a 16-14 lead. There were individuals who stood out for the Boks – the irrepressible Malcolm Marx chief among them – but for the most part the collective wanted for synergy and direction.
The Bok attack blew several clear try-scoring chances through poor decision-making and composure. The defence was routinely breached out wide and at times right through the middle.
A better side may have punished the Boks on the day. Fortunately for South Africa, France rarely capitalised after breaking the line. The visitors – who were without a clutch of Clermont and Toulon players who had competed in the Top 14 final six days before – were made to regret their own poor option-taking in contact.
Fewer than 30,000 people witnessed the Boks’ first match of the 2017 season. There were times when the crowd lost interest. The atmosphere lacked the buzz and hostility one would typically associate with Loftus.
That said, the crowd found its voice when Marx offloaded to Jesse Kriel in the 31st minute. The centre showed outstanding pace to beat the France defence. Elton Jantjies, who was flawless in front of goal, completed the conversion to steer the Boks into a commanding 13-0 lead.
Wingers Yoann Huget and Virimi Vakatawa terrorised the Boks in the wider channels over the course of the first half. Huget received the ball in space in the 36th minute, and then chipped over the advancing Bok defenders.
Fullback Andries Coetzee failed to deal with the bouncing ball, and an alert Henry Chavancy pounced to complete the try for France. The buildup to that score will not be remembered fondly by a Bok side that is looking to sharpen its defence. The scoreboard read 16-7 at the break.
Reserve scrumhalf Baptiste Serin crossed the line for France in the 56th minute. At that point, the momentum was with the visitors.
That all changed after Courtnall Skosan chased a rolling kick four minutes later. Dulin looked to have challenged Skosan fairly, pulling the Bok winger back just as he had the ball in his grasp. The officials thought otherwise, though, awarding the Boks a penalty try and sending Dulin to the sin bin.
The Boks scored a further try immediately after that incident. Warren Whiteley took the ball at the back of the lineout, and played it to Ross Cronjé.
The scrumhalf, who had butchered an earlier chance to score, made no mistake on this occasion. That try effectively ended the game as a contest.
Springboks – Tries: Jesse Kriel, penalty try, Ross Cronjé, Jan Serfonten. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3), automatic conversion. Penalties: Jantjies (3).
France – Tries: Henry Chavancy, Baptiste Serin. Conversions: Jules Plisson (2).
Springboks – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds.
France – 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Loann Goujon, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Yoann Maestri (c), 4 Julien le Devedec, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Clément Maynadier, 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Mohamed Boughanmi, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Kévin Gourdon, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Vincent Rattez.
Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images