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Ken Borland


Springboks overcome tough times to get back on right track

Posted on June 10, 2017 by Ken

 

France gave them a tough time, but in the end the Springboks started their 2017 campaign with a highly satisfactory 37-14 win at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday night.

There were enough positive signs to suggest coach Allister Coetzee and his team have the Springboks back on the right track after hitting rock bottom in 2016.

The Springboks were put on the front foot by a superb effort from their pack, which was clearly dominant. Enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the home team were not always direct enough on attack, sometimes becoming too lateral, so the scoreboard did not always reflect how in charge they seemed to be.

The French were able to create space out wide too easily at times and some moments of defensive frailty from the Springboks meant the visitors were very much in the game until the final quarter.

With the clock on the hour mark, the match was on an even keel with the Springboks leading 16-14 when the turning point came.

The quick-thinking of scrumhalf Ross Cronje and the clever boot of flyhalf Elton Jantjies saw the ball bouncing over the French line with Courtnall Skosan in hot pursuit down the left wing. He had the pace to get there first but, as he was reaching up for the ball, he was played by French fullback Brice Dulin and the ball went astray.

The Springboks called for the early tackle and the TMO, Englishman Rowan Kitt, and referee Glen Jackson made the ruling that the contact had been a split-second too early. It was a marginal call either way and it was desperately tough on the French to concede a penalty try and for Dulin to be yellow-carded.

The Springboks scored two more tries in the 10 minutes he was off the field and the contest was over with the lead 37-14 with 12 minutes to play.

The first try came from the training ground with a slick lineout move. Captain and eighthman Warren Whiteley shifted backwards to take a deep lineout throw and then, having barely held on to the ball, immediately passed it into the gap for Cronje to come roaring through and score a memorable try on debut.

Seven minutes later, turnover ball allowed replacement scrumhalf Francois Hougaard to go on a sniping run, before fullback Andries Coetzee hit the afterburners and stormed into the open spaces before sending centre Jan Serfontein on a diagonal road to the tryline.

The road to victory was bumpy at first for the Springboks as the French driving maul earned them an early penalty, but flyhalf Jules Plisson missed.

With half-an-hour gone, South Africa only had two Jantjies penalties to their name. The first came after a lovely interchange of passes between hooker Malcolm Marx and wing Raymond Rhule led to the French being offsides. The visitors were up quickly in defence and combative in the tackle, but it was an area referee Jackson did police well.

The other Jantjies penalty came from a rolling maul, an area of the game in which the Springboks also showed pleasing work.

Marx produced a phenomenal first-half display, charging around the field like some intergalactic giant beast, and he provided the scoring pass for outside centre Jesse Kriel to go racing over for the first try in the 31st minute, after Coetzee, the other star up till then, had fought hard in the tackle and then burst clear.

The Springboks were 13-0 up with Jantjies’ conversion, but then the French began pulling back on the scoreboard.

The ease with which they were able to create space out wide is one of the aspects of play the Springboks will have to improve and, in the 36th minute, right wing Yoann Huget had acres of space and then chipped ahead, Coetzee totally missing the bouncing ball on the goal-line, allowing centre Henry Chavancy to dot down.

Jantjies, who did everything that could have been asked of him at flyhalf in a busy, courageous performance, scored the final points of the first half with a penalty to make it 16-7. The kicking of the Lions pivot was an obvious high point of his game as he succeeded with all six of his shots at goal.

The French scored the first points of the second half to keep the minds of the Springboks focused as Chavancy ran straight over Kriel in midfield, the Bulls player having to leave the field with concussion, and, from the next ruck, replacement scrumhalf Baptiste Serin dummied and went over the line.

Plisson’s second conversion narrowed the lead of the South Africans to just two points (16-14), but the final quarter belonged to the home side.

The physical effort of the Springboks never flagged, thanks to the impact off the bench of players like Jean-Luc du Preez, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Coenie Oosthuizen and Bongi Mbonambi, and the outstanding scrum was the other highlight of the performance.

It was just the sort of encouraging performance the Springboks needed to start their year.

Points scorers

South AfricaTry – Jesse Kriel, penalty try (7pts), Ross Cronje, Jan Serfontein. Conversion – Elton Jantjies (3). Penalties – Jantjies (3).

FranceTries – Henry Chavancy, Baptiste Serin. Conversions – Jules Plisson (2).

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