JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa clinched a 3-0 series whitewash over France with a 35-12 win in the final test on Saturday, giving the Springboks a base to work off after the debacle of last season.
The Springboks shut out France four tries to none in the series-ender, shrugging off the late withdrawal of captain Warren Whiteley because of injury to keep their winning run going.
The Boks went over early in the first half and again early in the second half for the crucial scores, with center Jesse Kriel and stand-in captain Eben Etzebeth scoring those tries.
Hooker Malcolm Marx and replacement scrumhalf Rudy Paige scored in the last 20, sealing victory even if South Africa was scrappy in stages at Ellis Park — especially in the first half — without the leadership of No. 8 Whiteley at his home ground.
"Test match rugby is always about winning, whether it's pretty or not pretty," South Africa coach Allister Coetzee said. "So, it's a massive step in the right direction."
France's points came from four penalties by flyhalf Jules Plisson but, despite chances, the weary French couldn't breach South Africa's last line for the first time in the series and ended their season on a low.
Kriel scored his try inside the first 10 minutes after France wing Virimi Vakatawa was caught in possession by South Africa's forwards deep inside his 22 and had the ball ripped from him. Kriel was free on the right wing to squeeze in at the corner.
That early try raised hopes among 55,000 fans in Johannesburg that the Springboks would meet pre-match expectations of a heavy victory.
That didn't materialize, although South Africa still won comfortably in the end to secure its first win over France in five tests at Ellis Park.
At halftime, though, France was just a converted try behind at 16-9 after making life difficult for South Africa by disrupting its lineouts, matching the Boks in the scrum, and competing well at the breakdown.
France's progress in those areas forced the Springboks to reassess and revert to using its big ball carriers to wear down the French in the second half.
"After a bad start and 10 points scored against us, we kept going, so that's a positive thing for us," France coach Guy Noves said.
Etzebeth rumbled over early in the second to settle South Africa after the Boks tricked the French forwards by throwing the ball to center Jan Serfontein at a lineout five meters out. Etzebeth peeled off him to crash over and give the home team breathing space at 21-9, adding a try to what he said was already the best day of his life after being appointed as the captain.
Marx and Paige made sure South Africa's win was ultimately comfortable, restoring confidence among the Springboks after they entered this series on a four-match losing streak and off the back of the worst season in the team's history.
"The goal was to set the record straight and say we're flippin' good players," Coetzee said.