A controversial try scored by Jesse Kriel sealed the victory as the Springboks held on to beat France 18-17 in Paris on Saturday night.
Kriel spun out of a tackle to dot the ball down for the winning try, but he received a forward pass from captain Eben Etzebeth – the try was awarded by referee Nigel Owens based on the fact that the ball had been knocked out of the lock’s hand in the tackle, rather than deliberately passed.
Though South Africa were somewhat fortunate to be granted that try, they had enjoyed no luck in the goal-kicking department as flyhalf Handre Pollard left 11 points on the field through wayward strikes.
But he did kick an early penalty and this, coupled with a well-taken try Dillyn Leyds, gave the Boks an 8-7 lead at the break.
Halfbacks Baptiste Serin and Anthony Belleau scored all of France’s points, including one try each.
Both sides showed a willingness to run the ball from the outset and the Springboks were the first to benefit from this tactic when Leyds crossed for his first Test try in the seventh minute.
This, after the Boks took the ball through numerous phases – with Siya Kolisi, Malcolm Marx and Courtnall Skosan prominent – before Pollard offloaded to Leyds, who shrugged off an Antoine Dupont challenge before stretching to dot the ball down.
Pollard failed with the conversion attempt but 10 minutes later, he extended the Springboks’ lead courtesy of a penalty after Geoffrey Doumayrou was blown up for a high tackle on Jesse Kriel.
The Boks took the attack to their hosts but despite having most of the possession, they failed to score any points during the rest of the half. That proved costly as France opened their account in the 27th minute when the Boks failed to deal with a high ball from Anthony Belleau.
The ball was gathered just inside the visitors’ half by Paul Jedreasia and taken wide to Teddy Thomas. He set off on a surging run before being brought to ground inside South Africa’s 22. From the ensuing ruck, the ball came out to Belleau, who shrugged off a tackle from Jesse Kriel before scoring under the posts.
Belleau added the extras and there would be no further points during the half although both he and Pollard failed with further penalty attempts in the latter stages of the half.
First, Belleau was off target in the 32nd minute before Pollard missed shots at goal in the closing minutes of the half which meant the match was evenly poised at half-time with South Africa holding a slender 8-7 lead.
The hosts were fastest out of the blocks in the second half and took the lead in the 48h minute when Belleau added a penalty after Skosan was blown up for a high tackle on Thomas.
Five minutes later, Pollard lined another penalty attempt after Nans Ducuing infringed by throwing the ball away in touch, when the Boks were trying to take a quick throw-in at the set-piece but like his two previous kicks, this one was also wide of the mark.
Shortly afterwards, the Boks were handed a lifeline when Baptiste Serin was sent to the sin bin for an early tackle on Marx inside France’s 22. Pollard was successful with the ensuing penalty which meant the Boks now led 11-10 after 58 minutes.
The visitors soon extended that lead when, after an extended period camped inside France’s 22, Eben Etzebeth offloaded to Kriel who crossed for his side’s second try.
The final 15 minutes was a tense affair as France tried to narrow the gap. They were eventually rewarded in the 77th minute when Serin crossed from close quarters after Judicael Cancoriet and Yoann Huget did well in the build-up.
Belleau slotted the conversion which meant there was just one point separating the sides but the Boks held on for the win thanks to a solid defensive effort in the game’s closing stages.
Tries: Belleau, Serin
Cons: Belleau 2
Yellow Card: Serin
Tries: Leyds, Kriel
Pens: Pollard 2
FRANCE: 15 Nans Ducuing, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Judicael Cancoriet, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot
Bench: 16 Clement Maynadier, 17 Sebastien Taofifenua, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Paul Jedreasiak, 20 Anthony Jelonch, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Damian Penaud
SPRINGBOKS: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Bench: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Dan du Preez, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian de Allende
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
ARs: Wayne Barnes (England), Tom Foley (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)