Boks power past France in Pretoria
MATCH REPORT: The Springboks got their international season off to a perfect start with a 37-14 win over France in Pretoria on Saturday.
Dare South Africans hope? They would like to hope that they have woken from the nightmare of the recent past, that the dull and predictable rugby of the recent past no longer will exist, that rugby is worth getting excited about and going off to watch, that there still is life in South African rugby.
This may not have been France's best team, but so what? The winning was fine but finer still were the attitude and energy.
Loftus Versfeld was by no means full but those who were there - 29 313 in all - must have been so happy that they had made the right choice as both teams played with enthusiasm. It was a lively and interesting Test match as one could hope to see.
It was a cool, still evening as four fighter planes flew over the stadium before the start, and right from the start both teams played with zest and skill.
France charged at the Springboks from the start and when the Springboks were awarded a free kick at the first scrum, they tapped and ran.
France had the first chance to score when Franco Mostert was penalised at a maul, but Jules Plisson missed.
Then the Springboks attacked. Oupa Mahoje broke and Raymond Rhule was tackled into touch. Malcolm Marx broke through Louis Picamoles, and he and Rhule ran with promise.
Yacouba Camara was penalised for being offside and Elton Jantjies goaled. 3-0 after 11 minutes. The French were penalised at a maul. 6-0 after 14 minutes.
With Gaël Fickou and Virimi Vakatawa forging ahead France attacked down the left but a diagonal to the right was foiled by Courtnall Skosan.
Siya Kolisi broke and Ross Cronje and Mostert carried it on but the Springboks were penalised.
It was a game of movement.
The first try came from a turnover inside the Springbok half. Andries Coetzee broke free and gave to Marx who recognised greater speed on his outside and gave to Jesse Kriel who raced over for a try. 13-0.
France were soon on the board. They got the ball out to Yoann Huguet on the right wing. He had an overlap and raced ahead, too fast for Warren Whiteley. He kicked ahead into the Springbok in-goal where the ball did an erratic dance. Coetzee missed it. Huguet missed it. Whitely missed it but Henri Chavancy got it and scored. 13-7 after 35 minutes.
Just before the break Fickou was penalised and Jantjies made the score 16-7.
France stated the second half with an attack. Fickou grubbered and Cronje saved but at the price of a five-metre line-out. The Springboks contained and got away.
Six minutes into the half, France made a change. Baptiste Serin replaced Maxime Machenaud - possibly because the French minds had summed up the match and decided that speed was more important than strength.
Chavancy broke and was right at the Springbok line as the Frenchmen piled into defenders till Serin threw a dummy and darted inside Mostert to score. 16-14 after 56 minutes. Gloomy shades of the past descended on Loftus. Three minutes later the gloom lifted and the miserable ghost of 2016 was sent packing.
Jan Serfontein grubbered into to the French in-goal and Skosan was beating Dulin to the dancing ball. Skosan reached for the ball and Dulin grabbed him from behind. The upshot, after TMO input, was that a penalty try was awarded and Dulin was sin-binned.
This is of historic interest as it is the first time that the Springboks have scored a seven-point penalty try, perhaps the first such try in international rugby. That is because the conversion is taken for granted. 23-17 after 59 minutes.
South Africa now started making changes till all the bench was used and Dillyn Leyds came on for his first Test cap.
After Camara had been penalised for an air tackle, the Springboks threw into a line-out. They threw far over the line-out where Jean-Luc du Preez backpedalled, jumped up and played the ball straight into the hands of Cronje who raced through Dulin-less acres to score at the posts. 30-14 after 61 minutes.
In this late stage of the game France had two five-metre line-outs, but on each occasion Eben Etzebeth got up to steal their ball.
France were attacking in the South African half when some strong work by Whiteley produced a turnover ball to Francois Hougaard who ran and gave to Coetzee who raced away into the French 22 where he gave to Serfontein who went off on a diagonal for the line, checked and scored. 37-14.
In the second half South Africa scored 21 points to France's seven. One of a remarkable aspects of their scoring was the unfailing boot of flyhalf Jantjies.
Man of the Match: Somehow this was about more than individual performance. It was about a new, energetic spirit, and for that we make the honourable Springbok captain, Warren Whitely our Man of the Match, the big strong man, who walked ahead of his team, clutching the hand of a frail little boy..
Moment of the Match: Pick any of the tries. There was something special in each but that first try, scored by Jesse Kriel, was the Moment of the Match, as it was the herald of the revived Springbok spirit.
Villain of the Match: Nobody, not even Brice Dulin.
For South Africa:
Tries: Kriel, Penalty Try, Cronje, Serfontein
Cons: Jantjies 3
Pens: Jantjies 3
Tries: Chavancy, Serin
Cons: Plisson 2
Yellow card: Brice Dulin (France, 59 - foul play, tackling opponent without the ball)
South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 5 Francois Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Coenraad Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Francois Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds.
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huguet, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Louis Picamoles, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Yoann Maestri (captain), 4 Julien le Devedec, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Clément Maynadier, 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Mohamed Boughanmi, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Kevin Gourdon, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Vincent Rattez.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)