First Test: Springboks Defeat France at Loftus

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PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 10: Ross Cronje of the Springboks breaks away to score a try during the Castle Lager Incoming Series 1st Test between South Africa and France at Loftus Versfeld on June 10, 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

A fair crowd of 30 000 spectators were on hand to see an improved Springboks defeat France at Loftus Versveld.

South Africa 37 France 14
South Africa – Tries: Kriel, Penalty Try, Cronje, Serfontein Conversions: Jantjies (3) Automatic Conversion  Penalties: Jantjies (3)
France – Tries: Chavancy, Serin Conversions: Plisson (2)

We take a look at some talking points coming out of this matchup.

Four Key Moments

Two key moments belong to Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth. Twice the French had an attacking lineout five meters from the Springbok line. Twice he managed to get ahead of the jumper and steal possession, killing off the attack. The third key moment was when skipper Warren Whiteley collected a deep lineout throw and passed the ball inside to a flying Ross Cronje who outstripped the defence to score on debut. The fourth and most crucial moment when France fullback Brice Dulin was deemed to have interfered with Courtnal Skosan by pulling him back in the in goal area. It was a very tight but correct call that resulted in a yellow card for Dulin and a penalty try for the Springboks. The Springboks scored a further two tries with Dulin in the bin.

The Key Players

Man of the Match Malcolm Marx put in a good shift, as did flankers Siya Kolisi and Oupa Mahoje. Marx’s front row partners Beast Mtawarira and Frans Malherbe also gave the Springboks a strong scrum base to work off.

Flyhalf Elton Jantjies looked a lot more assured with Ross Cronje as his halfback partner, the latter producing a more than solid performance in his first international appearance. Debutant fullback Andries Coetzee added some pace and elusive running to the mix and did not look out of place at Test level.

The Game Plan

The Springboks looked a lot more comfortable playing off a strong base of first phase possession – a sound lineout and stable scrum. We cannot hide away from the fact that this is not the best team that the French can field and were hampered by the fact that nearly half of the squad only arrived at the beginning of the week after playing in the Top 14 Final. They spoiled a number of promising forays into Springbok territory with handling errors and by conceding penalties while on attack.

The fact that the Springboks played off a solid first phase does not mean that there was no attacking intent though. The Springbok attack is certainly not the oiled machine that we expect the All Blacks to be, but they did up the tempo when opportunities presented themselves. Gone was the simple shifting of the ball to the outside we saw in 2016. Most times, the ball carrier had two option runners on the outside. Either a flat receiver or a deeper option.

They are very much a work in progress and pulled of a very important win for both their and their supporters’ confidence.

The Influence of the Coaching Team

The Springboks paid a very heavy price for the folly of going light on their coaching team in 2016. It is clearly evident at this early stage that the Springboks have worked at fixing the basics. From receiving the kick off and exiting to their defence. They were caught out a couple of times early in the game with the French offloading to beat their defence, but the Springboks scrambled well. Brendan Venter’s influence in defensive structures will become more and evident.

This was not a performance that would win a Rugby World Cup, not even a Rugby Championship. However, it was a very important building block in rebuilding the confidence of a team desperate to prove themselves worthy of once again being ranked in the top three of the World Rugby rankings.

The Springbok team:
15. Andries Coetzee 14. Raymond Rhule 13. Jesse Kriel 12. Jan Serfontein 11. Courtnall Skosan 10. Elton Jantjies 9. Ross Cronje 8. Warren Whiteley(c) 7. Oupa Mohoje 6. Siya Kolisi 5. Franco Mostert 4. Eben Etzebeth 3. Frans Malherbe 2. Malcolm Marx 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements:
16. Bongi Mbonambi 17. Steven Kitshoff 18. Coenie Oosthuizen 19. Pieter-Steph du Toit 20. Jean-Luc du Preez 21. Francois Hougaard 22. Frans Steyn 23. Dillyn Leyds

The France Team:
15. Brice Dulin 14. Yoann Huget 13. Henry Chavancy 12. Gael Fickou 11. Virimi Vakatawa 10. Jules Plisson 9. Maxime Machenaud 8. Louis Picamoles 7. Loann Goujon 6. Yacouba Camara 5. Yoann Maestri(c) 4. Julien le Devedec 3. Uini Atonio 2. Clement Maynadier 1. Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements:
16. Camille Chat 17. Eddy Ben Arous 18. Mohamed Boughanmi 19. Bernard le Roux 20. Kevin Gourdon 21. Baptiste Serin
22. Jean-Marc Doussain 23. Vincent Rattez

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