Johannesburg - Playing in the wake of the disruption of captain Warren Whiteley’s late withdrawal, the Springboks put in a disjointed performance, but still beat France to seal the Test series 3-0 at Ellis Park on Saturday evening.
On the 22nd year to the day after the Boks beat New Zealand to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Allister Coetzee’s men put in a performance big on industry and abrasive defence to snap the visitors’ surprising record of not having lost to them at the venue in the four previous matches there.
The result – a four tries to none victory in a match in which the hardworking Eben Etzebeth led by example – is a comprehensive series win with scores of 37-14, 37-15 and 35-12 from the three games.
The game went pretty much along the same lines as last weekend’s Test in Durban, where the French kept knocking on the door early and kept getting repelled by a rabid Springbok defence.
While the French definitely looked to be the team doing most of the creating, the Boks’ in-your-face line-speed in defence almost always spooked them into the wrong pass, a handling error or a simple turnover.
The Boks’ first try, by outside centre Jesse Kriel for his fifth in Test rugby, was a case in point.
His centre partner Jan Serfontein ripped the ball in contact and flanker Siya Kolisi snaffled the loose ball, the recycling of which ended up with debutant prop Ruan Dreyer making the second rip of the ball in the movement and making the scoring pass to Kriel.
Fair bit to be desired
Another déjà vu moment from last weekend’s game was a barnstorming performance by Serfontein, who stole ball, found time to take line-out ball in the second half, broke the line and tackled himself to a standstill in an effort that reminded many why he was the world junior player of the year in 2012.
For all their desire, the Bok performance was big on heart and short on clinical execution. The Boks’ 16 first-half points were all due to the French making errors gratefully punished by their hosts, what with fly half Elton Jantjies kicking just about everything over these days.
A big part of why the Boks were scrappy was that they had to rely on bread crumbs to build their bakery in the game because the set piece let them down in the first half. Dreyer may have won a penalty with his first scrum in international rugby, but he promptly conceded two to back that up.
And while Whiteley was sorely missed as an option in the line-outs, hooker Malcolm Marx’s throwing left a fair bit to be desired, something the Bok team management tried to fix by introducing lock Pieter-Steph du Toit at flank.
It also didn’t help that the experienced Francois Hougaard didn’t bring the same calm to the base of the scrum as the concussed Ross Cronjé.
The result was a free-for-all match that rewarded the Boks’ industry and sharpness to the loose ball.
To their credit, though, the bench again made an impact for the hosts as Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and first-time try scorer Rudy Paige gave the impetus that helped the French disintegrate towards the end of the game.
For all their bluntness in attack – they kept trying to bully the Boks in contact – the French have some promising players in their ranks, namely flanker Yacouba Camara, the curiously named prop Jefferson Poirot and outside centre Damian Penaud.
Camara, an exceptional line-out forward, is all industry on the ground and in the air, Poirot is strong and explosive, and former French flyhalf Alain Penaud’s son, who made his debut last week, is a slippery customer.