25 November 2013
The Springboks brought the curtain down on a long and satisfying season with a bruising 19-10 victory over France at Stade de France on Saturday night. It was South Africa’s first win over the French in Paris since 1997, when the Boks famously crushed France 52-10.
The victory left South Africa with 10 wins in 12 matches in 2013, including a Rugby Championship record 73-13 victory over Argentina in Soweto, a big 38-12 defeat of Australia for the Boks’ first win in Brisbane, and a 28-0 whitewash of Scotland at Murrayfield.
It was by no means a vintage Springbok performance in Paris, but it was controlled, committed and confident, which was enough to defeat a fiery French side that had pushed New Zealand hard in a recent seven-point defeat to the All Blacks.
‘Relieved and proud’
“I’m very relieved and very proud,” coach Heyneke Meyer said at the post-match press conference, which took place in the early hours of Sunday.
“It has been a very long season and there have been a lot of niggles and a lot of injuries, but the guys really wanted to put their bodies on the line and win for their country. They played against a very tough French side, so I’m just very happy and very relieved. I think we have been blessed this year, especially today.”
‘They play for each other’
Meyer also lauded the contribution of the entire Springbok squad, saying: “I’m very proud of the team. The great thing about them is they play for each other. It’s not just the 23 guys on the pitch, it’s all 32 players that have been here and a few injured guys back home.
“What really makes me proud is a guy like Willem Alberts, who was injured, shouldn’t have played probably, but he put his body on the line and suddenly he’s the man of the match. That’s awesome. A guy like Coenie Oosthuizen, we had two injuries to props, and we were really worried about the scrum, especially against the French. He came through brilliantly and Bakkies Botha, at 34-years-old there was a lot of criticism about his inclusion, but when Eben Etzebeth got injured, he came on and delivered a really awesome performance and that it what it is all about.
“It’s about team work, playing for each other, putting your body on the line for the guy next to you, and that is what makes them a successful team. I am very, very proud of the guys.”
Unfortunately, as it had been in all three of their northern hemisphere tests, the pitch was not up to scratch and negated a consistent showdown at scrum time, although the Springboks on one occasion absolutely blasted France off the ball to earn a penalty and on another occasion claimed a tighthead.
Despite the awful surface, tighthead prop Coenie Oosthuizen was one of South Africa’s leading lights on the night, scrumming strongly, putting in plenty of tackles, and working hard to turn over ball. A big man, weighing 127 kilograms, with his industrious work rate he reminds one of his provincial forwards’ coach at the Cheetahs, Bok great Os du Randt.
The South African loose trio was again effective and very physical. Man of the match Willem Alberts was singled out by coach Meyer after the game for his commitment to the green and gold after Alberts came through a late fitness test to take the field, while Francois Louw made matters tough for the hosts at the breakdown. He was, however, shown a yellow card late in the game for shoving Pascal Pape’s face into the ground at a ruck, but the referee missed the slap Pape had given Bok captain Jean de Villiers, which led to Louw’s reaction.
A superb season
At the back of the scrum Duane Vermeulen put an exclamation point on a superb season. His heavy tackling, powerful carrying of the ball, and winning of the ball at the ruck were, as they have been throughout the year, outstanding.
It is difficult to imagine 53-test veteran Pierre Spies, who has been sidelined with injury this season, winning the eighthman position back. Not only has Vermeulen played out of his socks at the back of the scrum, he has also combined wonderfully with Alberts and Louw.
Behind both packs, the backlines struggled to make ground against one another, although South Africa were twice denied tries by the television match official (TMO) in the second half.
On the first occasion, with South Africa on the attack and just outside the French 22, Morne Steyn failed to hold onto a pass, but it flew parallel to the flyhalf on to De Villiers, who scooped it up, broke through the opposition backline and then offloaded to his centre partner Jaque Fourie, who crashed over for what looked like a try. The TMO viewed it numerous times before disallowing the five-pointer because he deemed the ball had gone forwards between Steyn and De Villiers. The decision was somewhat surprising.
Later, after one of the few flowing, attacking moves in the game, fullback Willie le Roux stabbed through a beautifully judged grubber. Francois Louw, out on the right touchline, flew through to force the ball down beyond the French try line. The referee, though, asked for the TMO to review the score because French winger Yohann Huget had been close by.
The replays revealed the defender’s hand missed the ball as he desperately dived to prevent the try. However, at full stretch and with his eyes closed, Huget made contact with the ball as his body bounced on the ground. His hand appeared to have moved the ball sideways, just before Louw touched it, but the TMO decided that the ball had been touched down and a 22 metre kick out went France’s way. Again, it could have gone the other way.
South Africa’s only try was scored by JP Pietersen, who charged down an attempted clearance kick to go over. The enthusiastic and effective chasing of kicks was a feature of the Boks’ play and they did it better than the French to keep the hosts under pressure.
France became the only team to score a try against South Africa on their tour of the north just before half time, but the try was more about an unforced error by the Springboks than about French design.
Having caught a kick off comfortably, the Boks formed a ruck, intent on passing the ball back to flyhalf Morne Steyn. Inexplicably it squirted out of the scrum on the blind side and French scrumhalf Morgan Parra, who enjoyed a strong outing, pounced on the ball before feeding it out. South Africa’s defence scrambled to stop the danger, but Sofiane Guitone just made it in the left-hand corner, with the TMO once again being called upon to adjudicate whether or not a try had been scored.
While some have been critical of centre Jaque Fourie on his return to the side, it is hard to see why. His influence on the Springboks’ defensive pattern, his reading of the game and his organisation, was nothing short of brilliant. With Fourie to the fore, it was not just France, but also Wales and Scotland who found it extremely difficult to break through South Africa’s defensive lines.
At the back, Willie le Roux enhanced his reputation with another strong performance in the number 15 jersey. His kicking was probing and he was also solid under the high ball. On better pitches, he will be an absolute handful, but even on the poor Paris pitch his clever grubber for Francois Louw deserved to be rewarded with a try. With Le Roux at the back, the Springbok backline enjoys a dimension that has been missing for far too long.
Pride and hope
One of the main reasons that 2013 must be viewed as a successful season is the effect that the Springboks’ performances have had on supporters. Pride and hope in the team is on a high and the trajectory of the team continues to be up. Injuries notwithstanding, this side should have matured perfectly by the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and that is a reason to be very excited.
SPRINGBOK RESULTS IN 2013
- 8 June: SA 44-10 Italy, Durban
- 15 June: SA 30-17 Scotland, Nelspruit
- 22 June: SA 56-23 Samoa, Pretoria
- 17 Aug: SA 73-13 Argentina, Soweto
- 24 Aug: SA 22-17 Argentina, Mendoza
- 7 Sept: SA 38-12 Australia, Brisbane
- 14 Sept: SA 15-29 New Zealand, Auckland
- 28 Sept: SA 28-8 Australia, Cape Town
- 5 Oct: SA 27-38 New Zealand, Johannesburg
- 9 Nov: SA 24-15 Wales, Cardiff
- 17 Nov: SA 28-0 Scotland, Edinburgh
- 23 Nov: SA 19-10 France, Paris