South Africa. . . .17
THE years of absence from the international arena have left their mark on the Springboks, and they showed here yesterday that they still have a long way to go on the road back to the top of international rugby.
Against an occasionally brilliant but often confused Espoirs side, the South Africans were disappointingly inconsistent, and despite a strong performance in the third quarter of the game, they failed to score points when it mattered.
Playing into a blustery wind in the first half, they limited the French to a try to the right winger David Berty and the first of Thierry Lacroix's four penalties, Naas Botha replying with two penalties.
But after half-time the powerful Springbok pack stepped up the pressure and after an hour it looked as though their back row of Christian Strauss, Ian MacDonald and Piet Pretorius were about to dominate the rest of the match. It took them 20 minutes to score, but Botha put his team ahead with a towering dropped goal from 35 metres. Two minutes later, when the lock forward Drikus Hattingh plunged over for a try in the corner, it seemed as though the Springboks would run away with the game.
The French, however, came to life. As in the first half, they showed that as soon as they put pace on the ball or moved it wide, they were able to split the South Africans apart. Franck Mesnel, the winger Berty and Olivier Campan, who had a magnificent full-back's game, led the French charge.
Their sweeping counter-attacks drove the South Africans deep into their half, and the rattled Springboks conceded two easy penalties, both kicked by Lacroix. And with two minutes left a jinking Mesnel run from his own 10-metre line ended in a Pierre Hontas try.
With time running out, the Springboks desperately tried to make up the four-point deficit. But when a South African boot punished a blatant professional foul by the Parisien prop, Laurent Benezech, the referee Ed Orrisson turned the penalty against the Springboks. From 25 metres Lacroix kicked his fourth penalty.
FRANCE ESPOIRS: O Campan; P Hontas, T Lacroix, F Mesnel, D Berty; C Reigt, J Cazalbou (capt); L Benezech, F Landreau, S Graou, D Sanoko, H Chaffardon, X Blond, L Loppy, J-J Allibert. Replacements: Martos (for Graou, 77 min); M Courtiols (for Blond, 40 min); D Mendic (for Allibert, 78 min).
SOUTH AFRICA: H Reece-Edwards; D Oosthiuzen, F Knoetze, P Muller, P Hendriks; N Botha (capt), R du Preez; H Rogers, J Truscott, K Andrews, A Geldenhuys, D Hattingh, P Pretorius, Ian MacDonald, C Strauss. Replacements: T van Rensburg (for Oosthuizen, 50 min), H Le Roux (for Hendriks, 60 min).
Referee: E Morrison (England).
Scores: Botha (pen, 19 min, 0-3); Berty (try, 23 min, 5-3); Lacroix (pen, 31 min, 8-3); Botha (pen, 33 min, 8-6); Botha (drop goal, 60 min, 8-9); Hattingh (try, 52 min, 8-14); Lacroix (pen, 66 min, 11-14); Lacroix (pen, 59 min, 14-14); Botha (pen, 75 min, 14-17); Hontas/Lacroix (try/conv, 77 min, 21-17); Lacroix (pen, 79 min, 24-17).Reuse content