The Springboks edged France 18-17 on Saturday night for their first away win since beating Argentina in the Rugby Championship earlier this year – and just the second away win for coach Allister Coetzee since June last year.
It was a nervy performance by the Boks, who last week lost 38-3 to Ireland in Dublin, but they’ll take any victory they can get at the moment.
Coetzee’s men made hard work to get the better of a poor French team, but that said, if Boks No 10 Handré Pollard had his kicking boots on, the visitors would have won far more comfortably.
Starting his first match since the bronze-medal match at the 2015 World Cup, Pollard looked decent enough with ball-in-hand, but he missed four kicks at goal, a total of 11 points lost. It made the visitors’ job that much harder.
The Boks were certainly fired up in the early exchanges, with captain Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Malcolm Marx and Siya Kolisi all carrying the ball hard, and strongly.
They regularly got the Boks over the advantage line, while at the back, Francois Venter looked dangerous at inside centre, but there was little else to get excited about.
It was a performance full of passion and energy and anger, and no one can say the Boks weren’t physical, but they lacked composure and their execution regularly let them down – possibly because they were so eager to right the wrongs of Dublin a week before.
Etzebeth and his men, though, were rewarded for their good start when wing Dillyn Leyds finished off a good attacking period for the visitors, and by the 20th minute, the Boks were 8-0 up after a Pollard penalty.
Sadly the Bok No 10 didn’t have the best of days with the boot, missing three first-half kicks, which put his team under serious pressure going into the second 40.
Had he slotted his kicks, the Boks would have enjoyed a much bigger lead than the one-point at the break after the French hit back strongly in the latter stages of the first half to score a converted try by No 10 Anthony Belleau.
After France had stolen a Bok lineout ball deep in their own half, they kicked an up-and-under which the Boks failed to gather, and after winning it back, they put it through the hands before the flyhalf went over.
It must be said the Boks’ tackling in the move that resulted in the try was appalling, and they would have been angry for conceding it because France never really came close to their tryline again in the first half, and overall, the Boks tackled fairly well.
France edged ahead soon after the restart after a Belleau penalty, but the game then swung the Boks’ way following the sin-binning of France replacement scrumhalf Baptiste Serin in the 58th minute.
Pollard struck a second penalty for the infringement that got the Frenchman binned and soon after, Jesse Kriel went over after a TMO call, with Pollard converting.
The Boks were in control at 18-10 up, but a late try by the French by Serin, and converted by Belleau, made it a one-point game with three minutes to play, but the Boks hung on for the victory.
France 10 – Tries: Anthony Belleau, Baptiste Serin. Conversions: Belleau (2). Penalty: Belleau (1).
Springboks 18 – Tries: Dillyn Leyds, Jesse Kriel. Conversion: Handré Pollard (1). Penalties: Pollard (2).