There was just a point in it as South Africa defeat France, 29-28
It was madness distilled for much of it, but after 80 minutes of spit and snarl and chasing, the hosts’ hearts were broken. The Springboks knock out France on their march to the Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
After a breathless first 40 minutes, the French led 22-19. But the reigning world champions are as dogged as they are street smart, and as doubt and errors crept in for les Bleus, they capitalised. The Boks will take the belief wrested from this 29-28 victory into a semi-final date with England.
If New Zealand’s victory over Ireland was worthy of a final, this was worthy of a dramatic mini-series.
We got off to a scorcher, with France opting to chip over the rushing South African defence. And if flying Louis Bielle-Biarrey couldn’t race onto one crossfield kick to score the opener, Cyril Baille was on hand later on to crash over. The prop would end up with a brace of tries, but it was his front-row partner Peato Mauvaka who deserved all the plaudits.
The Toulouse No 2 had a match for the ages, playing as if he had a Sudoku of numbers on his back and getting a try in the corner himself.
But for every slug France had, the Springboks rebounded as hard. Cheslin Kolbe, a man possessed, ran after everything full tilt, and got himself a sprinter’s score from a kick clipped behind hapless French cover. He would also charge down a conversion for France.
In fact, it was French confusion that South Africa feasted on most. Take Kurt-Lee Arendse’s try, one of four for South Africa on the night and the response to Baille’s opener. With the French struggling to handle a kick hoisted up on their left wing, the South African could not believe the lack of cover back there, but helped himself nonetheless.
Damian de Allende would also barrel over in the first half, while Eben Etzebeth got a second-half score that knocked the wind out of French sails.
Much of the focus before the match was on skipper Antoine Dupont’s rapid return from a maxillo-zygomatic fracture, and he seemed to welcome the pressure put on him as he tore through a series of grubbers, chips and passes to on-rushing forwards as the heat came on him.
But for all the talisman’s will, the gaffes would keep coming as they let South Africa back in and while they ended with four scores, the French just could not come up with a fourth themselves. Meanwhile, the South Afircan bench added steal to the scrum, and brought an added tempo.
That is the beauty of what the reigning champs do. It’s ruthless.
And for all of the talk about the might of the northern hemisphere sides, only England stand in the way of an all-southern final.
In this mood, you’d be hard pressed to bet against the Boks making it to the global showcase once again, on the 28 October.