France combined youth and experience to upset the touring South Africans in a one-off Test match at the Stade de France last night.
Debutants Francois Gelez and Damien Traille kicked five penalties between them while their veteran hooker and former captain Raphael Ibañez – who was earning his 44th cap – scored France's only try of the match. It was a surprise win for the French, who introduced no fewer than seven new faces after drawing a fractious series 1-1 in South Africa during the summer.
Bobby Skinstad, the Springboks captain, had billed this as the series decider, while for their part the French were down-playing it as the start of a rebuilding process. It was the experienced tourists who landed the first blow when their fly-half Braam van Straaten slotted over a penalty from 30 metres in the fifth minute.
Gelez, the 22-year-old Agen stand-off who was only called into the side when the regular fly-half, Gerald Merceron, pulled out on Saturday with a thigh strain, settled any nerves he may have had by levelling the scores four minutes later. A 43-metre penalty from the debutant three minutes after that put the hosts 6-3 to the good. Van Straaten missed a chance to level for the Boks when he sent his penalty into the right goal post from 40 meters.
France were awarded another penalty after South Africa's experienced back row man ignored the International Board's new crackdown on coming into a breakdown from the side. Gelez kicked it and France led 9-3.
The clearest try-scoring opportunity of the half fell to the Boks when their scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen chipped the ball through the defence and over the French goal line, but the flying winger Breyton Paulse could not intercept, and the French regained control.
France went close to extending their lead when Traille attempted a drop goal just before the break, but it sailed wide of the posts.
The game sprang to life early in the second half when the experienced South African winger, Pieter Rossouw, rounded off a long raid into French territory with a try. Van Straaten converted to give the tourists a 10-9 lead. France has been a happy huntiong ground for thr Western Province man – he scored four tries in South Africa's last Test match on French soil in 1997, a 52-10 victory.
Gelez sent a penalty wide in the 55th minute but France edged ahead 12-10 five minutes later when Traille kicked a 50-metre penalty over the visitors' goal. Another infringement on the ground from the Boks gave Gelez a chance to slot another penalty, and his success put the French 15-10 ahead.
The crucial score came just five minuites from time, when Ibañez crossed the line after a superb run from the Montferrand wing David Bory. Gelez missed the conversion but France now led 20-10, which made Traille's penalty miss moments before the end irrelevant.
Now the French face the Australians, smarting from their defeat by England, in Marseille next Saturday. South Africa, meanwhile must visit fortress Twickenham the following weekend.
France: C Poitreneau (Toulouse); A Rougerie (Montferrand), D Traille (Pau), T Marsh (Montferrand), D Bory (Montferrand); F Gelez, (Agen), F Galthié (Stade Français, capt); J-J Crenca (Agen), R Ibañez (Castres), P de Villiers (Stade Français), D Auradou (Stade Français), T Privat (Béziers), P Tabacco (Stade Français), F Ntamack (Colomiers), O Magne (Montferrand). Replacements: Y Bru (Toulouse), J-B Poux (Narbonne), L Nallet (Bourgoin), S Betsen (Biarritz), F Michalak (Toulouse), N Jean-Jean (Toulouse), C Dominici (Stade Français).
South Africa: C Jantjes (Lions); B Paulse (Western Province), A Snyman (Natal Sharks), T Halstead (Natal Sharks), P Rossouw (WPr; B van Straaten (WP), J van der Westhuizen (Blue Bulls); O Le Roux (Natal Sharks), L van Biljon (Natal Sharks), C Visagie (WP),V Matfield (Blue Bulls), M Andrews (Natal Sharks), A Vos (Lions), B Skinstad (WP, capt), A J Venter (Natal Sharks). Replacements: J Smit (Natal Sharks), W Meyer (Lions), T van der Linde (WP), A Venter (Free State), J van Niekerk (Lions), N de Kock (WP), P Montgomery (WP).
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland)