A dramatic try by replacement hooker Bongi Mbonambi with the last movement of the game gave the Springboks a nail-biting, perhaps undeserved 29-26 win over France in Paris on Saturday night.
It looked all over for the Boks just moments earlier when a try in the left corner by wing Aphiwe Dyantyi was ruled out because of a clumsy forward pass by fullback Willie le Roux.
But referee Nigel Owens went back to play the previous advantage and it was Mbonambi who rewarded the side for their resilience by peeling off a rolling maul.
That said, the real hero was another substitute in flanker Francois Louw, who secured two crucial turnovers in the last five minutes to get the Boks back in their opponents’ half and launch their comeback.
However, this escape shouldn’t mask the fact that Rassie Erasmus’ troops in general were poor in executing a kick-based pattern and were, for at least 55 minutes, bullied in the collisions by a more imaginative France team.
That doesn’t happen every day of the week.
Who was the star in this match?
Mbonambi and Louw could easily stake a claim in this regard, but it was the consistently excellent Pieter-Steph du Toit that shone in this game. He had performed his ambulance job at No 4 with distinction yet it was his switch to blindside flanker later that brought out the best in him. It was his massive tackle that led to S’bu Nkosi’s vital try early in the second half when it seemed South Africa would be fatally out of the reckoning.
Key moments and themes
- The theme of South Africa gaining undeserved leads manifested itself within the first half hour when flyhalf Handre Pollard’s third penalty in the 28th minute saw the visitors 9-6 ahead. It, however, was nothing more than the Boks taking advantage of France’s own inconsistency. The hosts were by far more fluent, troubling the Boks with the directness of their running and dominating the breakdowns.
- France’s forceful ball-carrying eventually led to reward when hooker Guilhem Guirado exploited some sloppy defending from Faf de Klerk from a ruck to barge over, the South African scrumhalf seemingly relying on his teammate to close the gap instead of taking responsibility.
- That mistake would prove to be one of many by South Africa’s world player-of-the-year nominee. His box kicking was, at times, woeful and he also conceded the seemingly fatal penalty when he tried to charge down French flyhalf Camille Lopez’s kick and consequently hit him late. That said, the scrumhalf’s poor decision-making was hardly the exception. Another mercurial performer, Willie le Roux, was also way below par in much of his duties.
- Erasmus will need to examine the composition of his pack for the rest of this tour. It was simply no coincidence that arguably much of his best pack – on for the last 15 minutes – laid the platform for stealing this win. Louw brought balance to the loose trio, RG Snyman’s grunt compensated for the absence of Eben Etzebeth and Mbonambi was far more assured than Malcolm Marx, whose focus on getting his lineout throws right meant he went missing as poacher and ball-carrier.
France – Tries: Guilhem Guirado, Mathieu Bastareaud. Conversions: Baptiste Serin (2). Penalties: Serin (3). Drop goal: Camille Lopez.
Springboks – Tries: S’bu Nkosi, Bongi Mbonambi. Conversions : Handre Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (5).