Rugby Union: Resurgent South Africa sound a warning

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France. . . . .15

South Africa. .20

FRENCH supporters will no longer be counting their chickens before they are hatched, and that will have nothing to do with the species of creature which poses as their national emblem.

Since the beginning of the Springbok tour two weeks ago, everything pointed to a decisive home victory in this first Test, and the Tricolores, like most observers, made the serious mistake of underestimating a country which has still to lose an international match in France.

On Friday night, not even their most optimistic supporters were prepared to bet any francs on a South African victory. But Naas Botha's Springboks showed they still have the fibre by convincingly beating France 20-15 after leading 13-0 at half-time.

Two tries in quick succession had put the Springboks out of danger after three-quarters of an hour, while the French only produced their best play when desperately trying to catch up.

Admittedly the French were at best patchy, and the match rarely attained any heights. Pierre Villepreux, the French coach who has already been invited to assist the game's development in South Africa, remarked: 'Very definitely, the Second Division.'

The French looked dangerous from the first minute when, straight from Botha's kick-off, they ran the ball through the centres, and only the presence of Christian Strauss prevented a lightning French try.

The Tricolores wanted to play the game at pace They made the most of quick throw-ins, kept their penalty kicks and often seemed on the point of breaking through the South African defence. Franck Mesnel repeatedly cut through in the first half. But too often the French failed to support his breaks, giving the South Africans time to reform.

The Springboks played with greater concentration than previously on tour. Strauss had an immense game at No 8, not only keeping Alain Penaud, the fly- half, under pressure, but several times being on the spot to make the last decisive tackle.

Adolf Malan and Adri Geldenhuys shone in the line-outs where the French were expected to dominate. Wahl Bartmann was a tireless forager and had undoubtedly his best game on tour. With Strauss and Adrian Richter he formed a mighty back row.

Behind the scrum the South Africans have based their game on Botha's uncanny kicking skills. If he passed the ball at all in 80 minutes it was only so that the person outside him could kick instead. And even though one might have aesthetic doubts about these tactics, they at least led to a much needed victory in the Springboks' first Test out of South Africa since 1981.

Their first six points came from Botha's boot, and the first half was dominated by his up-and-unders, and long, raking touch-finders. But the neat scrum-half Garth Wright showed that he too has a golden boot with two finely-placed kicks from the base of the scrum which set up the two tries which clinched the match.

Seconds before half-time came Wright snatched the ball 40 metres from the posts and deposited it just outside the French 22 where Jean-Luc Sadourny, the full-back, fumbled under pressure from Richter. A South African boot toed on and Danie Gerber defied his 34 years by winning the race for a touchdown which Botha converted just before the referee whistled for half-time.

Sebastien Viars kicked a penalty after the restart to break the French duck, but they were soon back in their own 22 after another huge Botha punt. Six minutes after half-time came Wright's second gem. Running once again from a scrummage he nudged a grub-kick on the blind-side for James Small to plungeonto the ball just short of the dead-ball line.

Trailing 20-3, the French then started to play catch-up rugby and at times gave glimpses of what might have been. Christophe Deylaud made two sensational breaks, and his enormous dummy pass followed by a backhand flip to Laurent Cabannes nearly produced a try 70 metres downfield.

However, Viars' failure with the boot (he missed five penalties and a conversion) made France's task impossible though Penaud salvaged some respectability by scoring two tries. The first was a brilliant individual effort from the blind-side of a scrum and the second, with only four minutes to play, followed a nifty pass which sent him clear between the posts.

Pierre Berbizier, the French coach, said: 'I overestimated my players and because of this our game plan simply didn't work. When you are 20-3 behind in an international there is not much you can do.'

FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); P Saint-Andre (Montferrand), F Mesnel (Racing), C Deylaud (Toulouse), S Viars (Brive); A Penaud (Brive), A Hueber (Toulon); L Armary (Lourdes), J-M Gonzales (Bayonne), P Gallart (Beziers), O Roumat (Dax), J-M Cadieu (Toulouse) J-F Tordo (Nice), L Cabannes (Racing), M Cecillon (Bourgoin, capt). Replacements: P Benetton (Agen) for Tordo; A Benazzi (Agen) for Cadieu.

SOUTH AFRICA: H Reece-Edwards (Natal); J Small (Transvaal), D Gerber (Western Province), P Muller (Natal), J Olivier (Northern Transvaal); N Botha (Northern Transvaal, capt), G Wright (Transvaal); J Styger (Orange Free State), W Hills (Northern Transvaal), H Rodgers (Transvaal), A Malan (Northern Transvaal), A Geldenhuys (Eastern Province), W Bartmann (Natal), A Richter (N Transvaal), C Strauss (Western Province).

Referee: B Kinsey (Australia).

Scorers: Botha (drop goal, 6 min) 0-3, Botha (pen, 19 min) 0-6, Gerber/Botha (try/conv, 39 min) 0-13, Viars (pen, 42 min) 3-13, Small/Botha (try/conv, 45 min) 3-20, Penaud (try, 54 min) 8-20, Penaud/ Viars (try/conv, 86 min) 15-20.

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