France cracks late again and loses to Springboks 29-26
PARIS (AP) — France cracked right at the end once again as South Africa scored a try deep into injury time to win 29-26 at Stade de France on Saturday.
France thought it had the Springboks beaten for the first time since 2009 after losing their past six meetings — including four last year — but poor composure again cost Les Tricolores.
With the match petering out, France winger Damian Penaud stepped out of bounds taking a high catch with about 10 seconds left of regulation time. South Africa used the mistake to set up a lineout near the French line. When Springboks winger Aphiwe Dyantyi scored the French looked terrified, then relieved when it was ruled out by referee Nigel Owens for a forward pass.
But the Springboks had time for another lineout, and replacement hooker Bongi Mbonambi bundled through in the 85th minute after France's forwards were too easily rolled over.
"They finished strongly but the match seemed over until Damien went into touch," France coach Jacques Brunel lamented. "It's cruel because the players gave everything. We're not far away from this South Africa side, we measured up to them."
Captain Guilhem Guirado and powerful center Mathieu Bastareaud scored a try each for France while scrumhalf Baptiste Serin missed only one of his kicks, landing three penalties and converting both tries. Flyhalf Camille Lopez contributed a neat dropped kick.
Flyhalf Handre Pollard was perfect for the Springboks, landing five penalties and converting the other try from right winger Sbu Nkosi.
Last weekend, South Africa lost to England 12-11, succumbing on the last move.
But France has a habit of capitulating, including falling to Ireland in the Six Nations to a last-gasp dropped goal.
This time, its luck seemed to be turning.
With less than 10 minutes left, South Africa fluffed a try after a concentration lapse from South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe. He used his searing pace to break free down the right, but took his eye off Arthur Iturria coming across and the flanker forced him to fumble the ball.
Last year, the Springboks won 18-17 at Stade de France and this was another attritional affair.
Serin and Pollard matched each other to make it 6-6 after an even opening 20 minutes.
Then, France's sloppiness resurfaced: A lineout casually lost followed by another soft penalty and Pollard's huge kick from 50 meters made it 9-6.
Following a rare French attack, initiated by Lopez and fullback Maxime Medard, the alert Lopez nailed a dropped goal from about 25 meters.
But France blew a golden chance to score the first try after right winger Teddy Thomas did all the hard work in crashing through four tackles. Instead of passing inside to center Geoffrey Doumayrou he stubbornly continued his run by going right and into traffic.
Moments later, Guirado charged over from the back of a maul for his fifth try in 61 tests. Serin coolly converted for 16-9 at halftime.
Two errors yielded two tries immediately after the break.
Lopez's high kick was poorly dealt with by South Africa and the loose ball bounced up to Bastareaud, who bundled through.
Then Pollard's restart was badly fumbled by lock Sebastien Vahaamahina, allowing Nkosi an easy try in the corner.
Pollard slotted two penalties to move the Springboks to one point behind entering the final quarter which, for France, is a nervous time. France's three defeats in the Six Nations were by six points or less.
France got a free shot at three points when scrumhalf Faf de Klerk made a clumsy late tackle on Lopez as he kicked clear. Serin landed a tough kick to give France some breathing space at 26-22.
But not enough space.
Penaud's error was ruthlessly punished by the Boks, leaving the distraught Guirado, watching from the sidelines, dropping to his knees in disbelief and hiding his head in his coat.
"We don't have that much confidence, we can't really hide that," Iturria said. "We're a bit fragile. We have to keep learning, we're still rebuilding as a team."