British & Irish Lions

Springboks shake off cobwebs with victory over Georgia in first Test since 2019 World Cup

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Springboks' Aphelele Fassi
Springboks' Aphelele Fassi
David Rogers/Gallo Images

The Springboks did what was expected of them when they beat Georgia 40-9 at Loftus Versfeld on Friday in what was their first Test since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.

They scored six tries to none and got better as the game progressed, but it was clear they needed this hit-out instead of rushing into the British and Irish Lions head-long without Test rugby.

It was a satisfactory start to Jacques Nienaber's tenure as Bok coach after more than a year waiting for his first game.

While the result was always going to be significant, how the Boks warmed into international rugby after a Covid-19 enforced 20-month hiatus was important.

How they went about the game tactically was also going to fall firmly under the spotlight. They tried to be fancy, but with a midfield combination of Frans Steyn and Jesse Kriel, it was an exception to the rule

Aphelele Fassi's first touch from an expansive backline move that led to his first Test try seemed like the exception was indeed going to be the rule.

It didn't turn out like that for the better part of the first half despite some rare and sustained ingenuity from Handre Pollard

The right to go wide had not been fully earned. The forward dominance wasn't fully established, and the cohesion wasn't there.  

The patience to build phases and wear down the visitors was noticeably absent. That quality generally comes with Test rugby mileage.

In this case, it was understandable and that they had Georgia first before the serious matter of the British and Irish Lions later this month was a clever piece of fixture scheduling.

Warren Gatland's charges, who get their tour off and running against the Lions at Ellis Park, are street-smarter and battle-hardened.

That the Boks needed this Test workout was evident as early as the second minute where the Boks conceded a scrum penalty that was converted by flyhalf Tedo Abzhandadze.

Fassi's try three minutes later stemming from a wrap-around move that created an overlap was a thing of beauty.

It was not to be repeated until Cobus Reinach's 38th minute try after back-to-basic approach of close-quarter engagement with ball in hand and repeated penalties in their red-zone saw the Georgians lose a player to the sin-in in Beka Saginadze in the 35th minute.

Before that yellow card from Scottish match official Mike Adamson, Pollard had a try that was not given in the 34th minute.

The subsequent penalty saw Bongi Mbonambi crashing over from a maul to help the Boks get into the lead.

They were trailing 9-5 before that try as the Boks conceded eight more penalties, two of which were converted into points by Abzhandadze.

One of those penalties, aside from the second minute one, came from the scrum where the Boks' rustiness was apparent.

However, when Trevor Nyakane came off for a head injury assessment in the 31st minute, Frans Malherbe came on and forced a scrum penalty that swung momentum decisively.

Such was the change, Reinach's try originated deep from the Boks half with the ball moving wide. It needed Fassi's help, this time with an infield kick gathered by Reinach.

While the second half start was again staggered, the introduction of a new front row in Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Malherbe in the 50th minute swung the balance of the game indelibly.

Their first series of scrums manhandled the Georgians to a point where Kwagga Smith had the simplest of tries from a 5m scrum.

With the game grabbed by the scruff of the neck and Pollard getting slicker service from the better passer and game reader in Herschel Jantjies, the Boks asked more pressing defensive questions.

When Pollard put through a grubber, Georgia's defensive turn was slow and within a phase, Jantjies was over and the subsequent conversion made it 33-9 on the hour mark.

The physical squeeze continued unabated when Marx rumbled over from a maul in the 68th minute. That the forwards' collectively came together as the game progressed was better to see.

Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit also gradually served reminders of the dangers they pose on attack and defence.

The hard-earned dominance also allowed Rosko Specman to dazzle with ball in hand while Elton Jantjies again underscored his value with his excellent game management.

Damian Willemse was a surprise pocket of excellence, playing better in 15 minutes than he's done all season for his province/franchise.

Willie le Roux did what was expected of him, but at times, like he always does, tries a bit too much.

With SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus also in close-quarter attendance, the Boks ticked some boxes, but will need to be cleaner and more efficient at Ellis Park next week.


SA 40 (19)

Tries: Aphelele Fassi, Bongi Mbonambi, Cobus Reinach, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Malcolm Marx

Conversions: Handre Pollard (4), Elton Jantjies

Georgia 9 (9)

Penalties: Tedo Abzhandadze (3)


South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Rosko Specman, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Aphelele Fassi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse


15 Davit Niniashvili, 14 Akaki Tabutsadze, 13 Giorgi Kveseladze, 12 Merab Sharikadze (captain), 11 Demur Tapladze, 10 Tedo Abzhandadze, 9 Vasil Lobzhaidze, 8 Tornike Jalagonia, 7 Beka Saginadze, 6 Ilia Spanderashvili, 5 Konstantine Mikautadze, 4 Gigauri Davit, 3 Giorgi Melikidze, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Guram Gogichashvili

Substitutes: 16 Giorgi Chkoidze, 17 Nikoloz Khatiashvili, 18 Luka Japaridze, 19 Nodar Cheishvili, 20 Giorgi Javakhia, 21 Gela Aprasidze, 22 Giorgi Babunashvili, 23 Irakli Tskhadadze

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