Weakened France fail Small test

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The Independent Online
France 12 South Africa 22

South Africa outclassed a below-strength French team in the first of two Tests on a wet and windy Saturday afternoon.

France, who had lost six first-choice players in the build-up to the match, made a fine start, opening the scoring in the second minute with a penalty from Richard Dourthe. But South Africa replied quickly with a powerful run along the line by winger James Small for a try which Henry Honiball failed to convert.

Dominating the lineouts and using mauls to gain ground, South Africa stayed in the lead for the rest of the game. When France tried to respond, fine kicking by Andre Joubert, the South African full-back, sent them back into their half.

South Africa, playing impressive, powerful rugby, built a 19-6 platform for their victory in the first half with tries by Small and Joubert and three penalties by Honiball.

A fine move started by Joost van der Westhuizen led to a dive in the corner by Joubert for the match's second try, in the 32nd minute.

France, who had seen Olivier Merle, Olivier Roumat, Emile Ntamack, Philippe Saint-Andre, Thomas Castaignede and Alain Penaud withdraw with injuries, were forced to field a young and largely untested team and they hardly saw the ball in the first half. They recovered some pride after the interval and came close to a try with a succession of scrums near the South African line.

France tried their best to fight back into the match in the second half but failed to breach a tight South African defence and had to be content with two more penalties by Dourthe while Honiball scored one more for the world champions.

A penalty by Dourthe in the 66th minute allowed France to reduce the arrears. They were behind 19-12, and a converted try would levelled the scores. But, three minutes later, Honiball kicked a penalty and the South Africans held firm until the final whistle.

It was the first time the two teams had met since South Africa beat France 19-15 in the World Cup semi-final in June 1995 in Durban.

"We made very few mistakes and played well in difficult conditions, especially in the second half." Andre Markgraaff, the said Springboks' coach, said: "You must give France credit for never giving up, but I think we deserved to win.

His French counterpart, Jean-Claude Skrela, said his team had made far too many errors. "It's difficult to play rugby without the ball," he said.

"When you make a lot of mistakes against a team like the Springboks you can't expect to win." he said. "We were constantly under pressure, even if we did play better in the second half."

The South Africans go on to meet the French students in Lille tomorrow, before the second Test in Paris on Saturday

France: Penalties Dourthe (4). South Africa Tries Small, Joubert; Penalties Honiball (4).

France: J-L Sadourny; R Dourthe, S Glas (C Lamaison, 59), G Bouic, D Berty (D Vendittti 49), L Mazas, P Carbonneau; C Califano, M de Rougemont (M dal Maso 73), F Tournaire, H Miorin, F Pelous, A Benazzi (capt), T Labrousse (R Castel, 57), P Benetton.

South Africa: A Joubert; J Small, J Mulder, H Le Roux, J Olivier; H Honiball, J van der Westhuizen; D Theron (T van der Linde, 71), J Dalton (H Tromp, 76), A Garvey, K Wiese, M Andrews, R Kruger, G Teichmann (capt), A Venter.

Referee: B Stirling (Ireland).