France lived up to their reputation as the giant killers of world rugby with a deserved 20-13 win over South Africa in Toulouse on Friday.
France lived up to their reputation as the giant-killers of world rugby with a deserved 20-13 win over South Africa in Toulouse on Friday.
Beaten at scrum-time and at the breakdown, matched in the line-outs and in the battle of the boot, the Springboks were a step behind their hosts from the word go.
Before the game, the French promised that they would match the Boks for physicality and they did just that. A pumped-up French pack put on an absolutely ferocious display – constantly denying the world champions any opportunity to gain any sort of momentum.
The French would have been bitterly disappointed when they trailed 13-11 at the break after having enjoyed the better of the first half. South Africa's luck would change in the second half however as two yellow cards and blustery wind contributed to a scoreless second period for the tourists.
A number of eyebrows were raised in France when the Boks arrived just 48 hours prior to kick-off. Whether their late arrival played a part in their error-riddled performance is a matter of debate, but what is clear is that, on a slippery surface, South Africa made far more errors they we had become used to during the Tri-Nations.
But let's take nothing away from the Tricolors, who stepped up to the plate and produced and near faultless display. Despite the Springboks' credentials, this was no fluke as Marc LiÃ¨vremont's side lived up to the expectations created by their victory in New Zealand in June.
Julien Dupuy's early penalty gave France the lead as the hosts kept the world champions under constant pressure. Three times in the first fifteen minutes South Africa were robbed of the ball at the ruck and the team in blue were doing a good job of keeping possession.
But you only need to give John Smit's team half a chance and they will put points on the board. First MornÃ© Steyn levelled the scores with a yet another fabulous kick before he put his side ahead with a neat drop.
When Smit latched onto a wayward line-out throw from local hooker William Servat to barge over from short range, South Africa took an ten-point lead with the conversion from Steyn.
Two mistakes had cost France dearly, but it took less than a minute for Les Bleus to reply.
When the Boks fluffed the restart the French midfield turned on the gas. With the Bok defence stretched to the limit, Yann David found a gap, a brilliant tap-on from Francois Trinh-Duc gave Vincent Clerc the half-second he needed to sneak into the corner.
Things started to come apart at the seems for South Africa when Steyn was shown yellow on the stroke of half time and Dupuy narrowed the gap to two points.
Soon after the teams swapped sides Dupuy put France ahead when the Bok scrum was destroyed under their own posts. The wind was at France's back, both literally and figuratively.
South African never realistically looked like scoring in the second period and when Ryan Kankowski, who had a disappointing game in general, was shown a yellow for killing the ball near his own try line, the writing was on the wall.
Replacement scrum-half Morgan Parra missed the penalty but was on target a few minutes later to secure to win for the hosts.
Man of the match: France skipper Thierry Dusautoir was awesome. A terror at the breakdown, the Toulouse flank led his team with all the gusto that one could ask for.
Moment of the match: With France trailing on the half-hour mark, one might have had the feeling it wasn't going to be Les Blues' night, but
Vincent Clerc's try seemed to give the hosts the belief that they could win.
Villain of the match:Whoever that rasta was who murdered the South African anthem. Please, please never let him get close to a microphone ever again.
Pens: Dupuy 4, Parra
For South Africa:
Yellow cards: Steyn ( SA – 40th min – foul play); Kankowski (SA – 68th min – professional foul)
France: 15 Damien Traille, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Yann David, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 CÃ©dric Heymans, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Romain Millo-Chluski, 4 Lionel Nallet, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Fabien Barcella.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Sylvain Marconnet, 18 SÃ©bastien Chabal, 19 Julien Bonnaire, 20 Morgan Parra, 21 David Marty, 22 Maxime MÃ©dard.
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Adi Jacobs, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 MornÃ© Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich BrÃ¼ssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 John Smit (c), 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Andries Bekker, 20 Danie Rossouw, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Wynand Olivier.
Venue: Stadium de Toulouse
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), James Jones (Wales)
Television match officials: Graham Hughes (England)
Assessor: Steve Hilditch (Ireland)
By Ross Hastie