French hearts broken at the death by Springboks

A last-second try from Bongi Mbonambi broke French hearts as South Africa snatched a 29-26 victory in Paris.

A last-second try from Bongi Mbonambi broke French hearts as South Africa snatched a 29-26 victory in Paris.

Les Bleus had led by 14 points early in the second half but saw the Springboks mount a ferocious comeback to sneak the win with the final play.

Having been denied because of a forward pass in the previous play, South Africa went to their driving maul and Mbonambi peeled off to score in the corner.

France had earlier scored tries through Guilhem Guirado and Mathieu Bastareaud but it was not quite enough.

The home side made the quicker start, with Baptiste Serin slotting two penalties to open up an early 6-0 lead.

That was quickly cancelled out by Handre Pollard though, the Springbok fly-half in fine kicking form as he knocked over two penalties of his own.

In between those, France came close to the first try, pushing the South Africans back with a maul before Teddy Thomas’ grubber through was just too deep for fellow winger Damian Penaud to get down.

Another penalty from Pollard, won by Malcolm Marx, gave South Africa the lead for the first time, but on their next incursion into South African territory, Camille Lopez slotted a drop goal.

Les Bleus could have had the first try soon after, Thomas creating something out of nothing as he slithered out of a number of tackles and raced fully 50 metres. Having made the chance, he then failed to finish, tackled by Willie le Roux and unable to find his support.

They did not have to wait long though, with their maul again causing problems and Guirado peeling off and shaking off the tackle of Marx to dive over. Serin converted and France led 16-9 at the break.

France made the perfect start to the second half when South Africa failed to deal with a high ball. It dropped into the hands of Bastareaud and the centre powered over, Serin’s conversion making it 23-9.

With a two-score lead, France needed to consolidate but from the restart a miscommunication between Lopez and Sébastien Vahaamahina saw the ball spill loose and Sbu Nkosi was on hand to take advantage. Pollard duly converted.

Serin then missed the target for the first time, pulling a penalty attempt from the right just wide.

Pollard, on the other hand, was on fire, slotting another three points when France were isolated at the breakdown, cutting the deficit to 23-19.

Another three points from Pollard narrowed the gap to a single point, with everything to play for in the final quarter.

A misjudged attempted chargedown by Faf de Klerk handed France another shot at goal, Serin slotting it with his final contribution.

South Africa were then almost in for their second try, Cheslin Kolbe put away down the right but Arthur Iturria made a desperate tackle which dislodged the ball and saved the score.

But eventually the French defence failed, with Mbonambi the man to take advantage.

Player watch – Arthur Iturria

Shifted to the back row for the first time at Test level, Arthur Iturria did not disappoint, and was unquestionably France’s standout performer.

Beyond his lineout ability, Iturria was a willing runner and tackled his heart out. One of those came to deny Cheslin Kolbe what seemed a certain try.

And Iturria even chipped in with a magnificent kick to touch in the final minutes. That should have been the match-winner, but South Africa worked their way back into French territory and eventually got over.

Key moment

At 23-9, France were in control and on course for victory. From the restart, they needed a clean exit and to settle the game.

Instead, there was confusion between Sébastien Vahaamahina and Camille Lopez, with the former unable to gather the ball under pressure from Pieter-Steph du Toit.

As the ball squirted loose, Sbu Nkosi was fastest to react, getting the ball down and bringing South Africa right back into it.

Stat watch

– France’s defence was excellent in the Six Nations, before struggling in New Zealand. They were back on form here, missing just six tackles all game.

– Camille Lopez was back winning his first cap in 18 months, and he did so alongside Baptiste Serin, the same half-back pairing that started every game of the 2017 Six Nations.

– Guilhem Guirado started the game as France captain, with Mathieu Bastareaud finishing it as skipper. They were also the two try-scorers, although Guirado was still on when Bastareaud scored.

– South Africa have now played three successive last-minute thrillers, losing heartbreakers to New Zealand and England before getting the better of France.