Spurred on by a hugely committed forward pack, the Springboks edged France by the narrowest of margins in winning 18-17 in Paris on Saturday night.
It was their first win in their last six Tests.
With hooker Malcolm Marx and captain Eben Etzebeth leading from the front, the Boks were much more physical and direct than last week against Ireland.
It was especially a strong performance at the breakdown and some robust defensive play – where Marx, No 8 Duane Vermeulen and flank Francois Louw stood out – that caught the eye.
With the Boks hanging on to a 11-10 lead, the crucial moment in the match came when centre Jesse Kriel scored South Africa’s second try in the 61stminute to take a vital 18-10 advantage.
However, it shouldn’t have come down to that as flyhalf Handre Pollard had a shocker off the tee, missing four of his first five kicks at goal.
There was further drama with three minutes left when French replacement scrumhalf, Baptiste Serin, who earlier got a yellow card, scored a sniping try to bring his side within one point.
The Springboks had to desperately grind out in the nerve-wracking final few minutes.
Who was the star in this match?
Several Bok players played their hearts out like Marx, Etzebeth, Louw and Kriel but in the end the ‘award’ must go to the returning Vermeulen. He was at the forefront of the Boks’ physical approach and his ability to put pressure on the big French ball-carriers was a massive plus. He also showed good leadership when Etzebeth had to be taken off.
Key moments and themes
- The Boks got off to a solid start with wing Dillyn Leyds scoring the first try of the game after just eight minutes. The try was started with a linebreak from wing Courtnall Skosan. It was then taken up further with flank Siya Kolisi straightening the line well and Marx being stopped just short. Leyds stretched skilfully to score.
- The Boks showed good intensity and energy initially but Pollard’s skew radar meant the visitors were put under unnecessary pressure once they started to let the French into the game. That said, the Bulls pivot’s ability to take on defenders is a nice weapon to work with.
- The Boks good start was cancelled out when exciting young flyhalf Antbony Belleau dotted down in the 27th minute. That was a result of some poor communication between Francois Venter and Leyds after a high ball attack was launched by France. South Africa’s aerial skills remain dodgy – as was the case in Dublin – and it didn’t help that Kriel was among three Boks to miss tackles in the lead-up to the try.
- But he made amends with a telling break in the 57th minute. Were it not that Marx was pulled back, it would have been a certain Bok try. Serin was shown a yellow card for the indiscretion. Pollard popped over a penalty and Kriel scored four minutes later after some good pressure by the South Africans. That yellow card bagged the Boks 10 vital points on the scoreboard and, eventually, it proved enough.
France – Tries: Anthony Belleau, Baptiste Serin. Conversions: Belleau (2). Penalty: Belleau (1).
SA – Tries: Dillyn Leyds, Jesse Kriel. Conversion: Handre Pollard. Penalties: Pollard (2)