Winning start for new-look Springboks

South Africa got their 2017 Test campaign off to a superb start after a 37-14 victory over France in Pretoria on Saturday.

With five Springboks making their Test debuts, the home side still managed to see off les Bleus after outscoring the visitors four tries to two.

The Boks were the better side during the opening half and although a Jesse Kriel try was cancelled out by one from Henry Chavancy, three Elton Jantjies penalties gave the home side a 16-7 lead at half-time.

Much was said of Bok coach Allister Coetzee's decision to field seven Lions players in his starting line-up and for large periods they looked like the Johannesburg-based side in disguise with several of their players leading the way.

Chief amongst those was the halfback pairing of Elton Jantjies and Ross Cronje who impressed with their game management. Jantjies was the object of much anger from Bok supporters after some underwhelming performances last year, but delivered arguably his best showing at Test level. He eventually finished with a 17-point haul courtesy of four conversions and three penalties.

France had the better of the early exchanges although Jules Plisson missed an early opportunity to give them the lead when he pushed his shot at goal wide of the posts after Franco Mostert collapsed a maul illegally.

The Boks soon got into the game and held a 6-0 lead by the 15th minute thanks to two penalties from Jantjies after defensive indiscretions by les Bleus.

The next 15 minutes was a tight affair and although both sides came close to scoring tries; a combination of handling errors and scrambling defence meant that neither side managed to cross the whitewash during this period.

First, Virimi Vakatawa found himself in space inside the Boks' 22 and did well to get a pass out to Gaël Fickou, who was stopped just short of the try-line by a superb cover tackle from Jan Serfontein. 

Then, Siya Kolisi set off on a superb run before offloading to Cronje, who got a pass out to Franco Mostert who was penalised for holding onto the ball at a ruck deep inside France's 22.

On the half-hour mark, the Boks extended their lead when Andries Coetzee showed a great appreciation of the game's laws when after being tackled close to the halfway line, he released the ball on the ground before regathering immediately. 

This caught the French defenders napping and he set off on a darting run towards the tryline before offloading to Malcolm Marx and the burly hooker delivered a well-timed pass to Jesse Kriel, who crossed for the opening try.

Shorlty afterwards, France struck when Coetzee failed to deal with a chip kick from Yoann Huget, behind the Boks' try-line, and the wing did well to knock the ball backwards to Chavancy who dotted down.

On the stroke of half-time, Fickou infringed at a ruck and Jantjies slotted the penalty to extend the Boks' lead.

The second half saw both sides continuing to show attacking intent although there were some worried looks on Bok supporters' faces when Baptiste Serin crossed for his side's second try in the 54th minute after selling the hosts' defence a dummy close to their try-line.

Plisson converted which meant France trailed by two points, but things went pear-shaped for the visitors on the hour-mark. They conceded a penalty try after Brice Dulion tackled Courtnall Skosan, as he tried to gather the ball behind les Bleus' try-line. 

Dulin was also yellow carded for his indiscretion and the Boks would score two tries during his stint off the field. The first one was straight out of the Lions' playbook when, from a lineout just outside France's 22, Whiteley gathered at the back of the set-piece before throwing an inside pass to Cronje, who glided through a gaping hole before dotting down under the posts.

And just before Dulin's return, Coetzee put in a good run before getting a pass out to Serfontein, who went over in the right-hand corner.

That try sealed the win for the hosts and although France tried gallantly to fight back in the last 10 minutes, they could not breach the Boks' try-line again.

The scorers:

For South Africa:
Tries:
Kriel, Penalty try, Cronje Serfontein
Cons: Jantjies 4
Pens: Jantjies 3

For France:
Tries:
Chavancy, Serin
Cons: Plisson 2
Yellow Card: Dulin

South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Loann Goujon, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Yoann Maestri (c), 4 Julien le Devedec, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Clément Maynadier, 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Mohamed Boughanmi, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Kévin Gourdon, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Vincent Rattez

Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

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