Springboks gain measure of revenge over 2023 RWC hosts France
A miserable week for South African rugby ended on a high as the Springboks secured an 18-17 victory over France, the country controversially chosen ahead of them as 2023 Rugby World Cup hosts.
Having gained the recommendation of the Rugby World Cup board following an independent evaluation report, South Africa were left disgusted when the World Rugby Council awarded France hosting rights for the 2023 tournament on Wednesday.
If that provided additional motivation for Saturday's match in Paris, the Springboks were also fuelled by a desire to bounce back from last weekend's stunning 38-3 defeat to Ireland.
And a much-changed side managed to do just that as tries from Dillyn Leyds and Jesse Kriel proved enough to edge out a France team that struggled for fluency.
Handre Pollard - making his first start since the 2015 RWC - missed four of his six kicks at goal for South Africa, while France were left to rue Anthony Belleau's failure to split the posts with a penalty attempt that preceded Baptiste Serin's late try.
Serin had earlier spent 10 minutes in the sin bin for a cynical tug of Malcolm Marx's shirt that prevented a near-certain try, but the Boks soon capitalised on their numerical advantage through Kriel before holding on in the face of late home pressure.
There was an early blow for France when Paul Gabrillagues was forced off after just five minutes and Kevin Gourdon was also hurt early on, the latter sporting heavy strapping on his right ankle following his eventual withdrawal in the second half.
Leyds stretched over to open the scoring in the seventh minute, despite the best efforts of Antoine Dupont, with Pollard missing the conversion but then landing a subsequent penalty to make it 8-0.
Sloppy Springboks defending enabled Belleau to capitalise on a Teddy Thomas surge by cutting through a gap for France's first try, which he also converted.
Belleau then came up short with a long-range penalty, before Pollard missed two simpler kicks to ensure the score remained 8-7 to South Africa at the interval.
France duly edged ahead through Belleau's boot, but South Africa responded strongly despite another wayward effort from Pollard.
When Serin pulled Marx back to prevent the hooker collecting a pass 10 metres out, a yellow card was inevitable and France were perhaps lucky to concede just three points to Pollard as referee Nigel Owens opted against awarding a penalty try.
A break from Marx helped South Africa to nevertheless capitalise on their numerical advantage, Kriel beating Yoann Huget to a bouncing ball that had been dislodged from Eben Etzebeth's arms in a tackle.
Serin's subsequent score, converted by Belleau, came too late in the piece for France given the fly-half's earlier miss from the tee.