Brutal Boks manhandle French

A resounding 42-17 win on Saturday ended the Springboks’ five-year losing streak against France.

It was a game that was won before kickoff. Hordes of French fans filtered into Newlands and made their fierce presence felt during the singing of ‘La Marseillaise’. The Bok supporters countered with an uplifting rendition of ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ and it seemed as if all the emotion resulting form Bafana Bafana’s draw against Mexico had the locals hungry for more success.

The Boks certainly displayed the controlled aggression they lacked in the last meeting between the two teams. One tackle summed up their dominance, with senior statesman Lionel Nallet enduring a fierce body blow in the 28th minute. Referee Bryce Lawrence stopped the game to check with his touch judge regarding the legality of Danie Rossouw’s tackle, while Nallet was swarmed by French medical personnel. France had sustained an early assault, and like Nallet, were a few blows away from hitting the canvas.

The visitors struggled to breach the advantage line due to the Boks’ bruising physicality at the collisions. Without earning the right to go wide, their backline attack was static, and a loose pass was swooped on by Bryan Habana. The Bok winger found Jaque Fourie who in turn fed a hard-running Spies. The Bulls No 8 compared to a young Bob Skinstad in the way he swan-dived between the uprights.

While the Boks must have drawn inspiration from Bafana, the French were as flat as their own football counterparts. They botched several opportunities deep in Bok territory, as the South African hassling wasn’t limited to the breakdown, but prominent in the lineout as well.

Victor Matfield broke from a maul to pass to Ricky Januarie in the ninth minute, and the scrumhalf spun a flat pass to Gio Aplon. The Stormers winger, who boasts a modest 75kg bulk, proceeded to bounce off France centre Maxime Mermoz, and completed the humiliation by outsprinting the cover defence to score.

An area where the Boks did fail to deliver was in the centres, as Wynand Olivier and Fourie battled for synergy, especially on defence. Their breakdown in communication often led to an overlap for the French, and it was one such mistake that allowed Aurelien Rougerie to hit back for the visitors.

The scrum started well, but struggled as the first half progressed with BJ Botha heavily penalised. The Boks also lost skipper John Smit to injury at the end of the first 40. They were fortunate that scrumming wasn’t as much a factor when the game opened up.

Gurthro Steemkamp’s try in the 32nd minute ensured the Boks went to the break with a commanding 25-10 lead, and an opportunistic strike by Aplon early in the second period consolidated the advantage. The Boks did well to capitalise on French errors in this match, and it was a loose pass by Francois Trinh-Duc inside the Boks’ 22 that Aplon successfully gathered before sprinting 80m to score.

The French battled with the new law interpretations at the breakdown, and they certainly missed the physical presence of Sebastien Chabal and Imanol Harinordoquy. Louis Picamoles added some grunt to the French pack in the second period which begs the question why Marc Lievremont opted for mobility over strength in contact.

The visitors also looked tired, and began to kill the ball in the final quarter in an attempt to limit the damage. The Boks also lost rhythm towards the end because of the number of changes, and Flip van der Merwe’s debut ended on a bad note when he was sent to the sin bin for negative play.

Replacement scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvilli’s yellow-card served to further disrupt the disjointed French, and Francois Louw scored the Boks fifth try in 76th minute after the tired France defence disintegrated. The visitors earned a consolation try late in the game when Marc Andreu crashed over, but the scoreline confirmed they were well beaten.

The Bok coaching staff will be pleased with this performance considering it’s the first time the ‘A’ team’s played together in 2010. There are a few ailments that need remedying, and while Jean de Villiers’ return should help the midfield, the coaches will hope Smit’s injury doesn’t lead to more changes in the front row.

By Jon Cardinelli, at Newlands