Damien Traille, playing his first Test at flyhalf, inspired France to a famous 36-26 victory over the Springboks at Newlands on Saturday.
At the beginning of the week, French manager Jo Maso said they were looking to find a suitable back-up for the injured Frederic Michalak. They can stop looking. Traille created two tries with clever tactical kicks, scored one under the posts and added a drop goal for good measure. It was a masterful display from someone more at home in the midfield.
However, to focus too much attention on Traille would be unfair to the rest of his team-mates, who all did their part.
The Boks struggled in the scrums early on, conceding two free kicks for not binding properly. Eddie Andrews, in particular, found the going tough against Sylvain Marconnet, while Schalk Burger’s skills at the breakdown were missed.
Only seven penalties from Percy Montgomery kept the Boks in the game, although unlike last weekend against Scotland, his boot couldn’t prevent his side from slumping to their first home defeat since Jake White became coach in 2004.
It was Traille who created the opening try of the match when he went blind and kicked behind Brent Russell into the corner. A nasty bounce saw Russell wrong footed and left winger Cedric Heymans gave the visitors an early lead.
Montgomery’s 50m penalty goal put the Boks on the board before a penalty from French scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili and a drop goal from centre Florien Fritz made it 11-3 at the end of the first quarter.
The Boks looked vulnerable on defence, with the running lines of the French backs exposing them three times, including a switch that saw hooker Dimitri Szarzewski gain 30m. However, three penalties from Montgomery gave the home side a fortunate 12-11 lead.
Yachvili missed an opportunity to put the French back in front with a penalty kick, before Montgomery’s left boot found touch deep inside the opposition 22. Szarzewski’s line-out throw wasn’t straight and the Boks were awarded a 5m scrum – their best attacking chance of the game so far. The home side took the ball through several phases, but De Wet Barry’s grubber (meant for Jaco van der Westhuyzen) was intercepted by Heymans. A minute later, Montgomery missed his first kick of the day and the French went into the changerooms just one point behind.
One become four following another Montgomery penalty after the break, as the Boks seemed to take control of the game.
Russell broke away down the blindside, taking play from the Bok 22 into the French half. The French indiscipline continued to let them down, but this time Fourie du Preez took a quick tap as the Boks pushed for the try. After sustained pressure, Du Preez went for the right hand corner and offloaded to Danie Rossouw, but the lock couldn’t take the pass and Montgomery kicked the penalty to make it 18-11.
The Boks gave themselves some breathing space, albeit briefly, when Pedrie Wannenburg went blind from a scrum and found Du Preez, who put Russell into space. The winger beat two defenders before being ankle-tapped, but got back to his feet and scored.
Then came three sucker punches from the French that had the Boks against the ropes.
Another clever kick from Traille bounced perfectly for Fritz who put right wing Vincent Clerc away for their second try. The flyhalf then danced his way through three Springbok defenders to score under the posts, before kicking a drop goal for a 28-23 lead with 15 minutes to go.
Montgomery nailed his seventh penalty to set up a thrilling finish, but when Clerc shrugged off a pathetic tackle from replacement Gaffie du Toit to score his second try, and Yachvili kicked his third penalty, the small group of French fans at Newlands began to celebrate.
South Africa - Try: Brent Russell. Penalties: Percy Montgomery (7).
France - Tries: Cedric Haymans, Vincent Clerc (2), Damien Traille. Conversions: Diminitri Yachvili (2). Penalties: Yachvili (3). Drop goals: Florien Fritz, Traille.
By Simon Borchardt