South Africa clinched their three-match series against France with a comprehensive 37-15 Second test win at Kings Park in Durban.
A Mexican Wave that rolled around Kings Park shortly before halftime confirmed the seismic shift in mood from the last time the Springboks were in Durban as Warren Whiteley’s men gathered momentum with an emphatic 37-15 series-clinching win over France in Durban on Saturday evening.
The last time the Boks played here was in early October last year.
That was just eight months ago and yet it could just as easily have been eight years such was the difference in the levels of organisation and direction in the Bok play as they comprehensively wrapped up a series many expected them to struggle in, and that with the third match in Johannesburg still to come.
No-one who supports or follows the Boks will need reminding of the previous game here that has been referred to.
The All Blacks topped the 50 point mark in that game, and it was then that the warning bells started clanging loud enough to set in place a national coaching indaba and other myriad changes that are slowly but surely being enacted and put in place.
The only really big changes to the coaching team since then are the introduction of defence coach Brendan Venter, who offers far more than just his specific designation, and backline coach Franco Smith.
But the impact of both men has been clear to see over the last two Saturdays, starting with the equally convincing win at Loftus, but the change extends far beyond that.
This is a team with plan and purpose and none of the confusion that seemed to engulf it last year, and the extra time that coach Allister Coetzee has had to plan, with the help of training camps, has made all the difference to the listless ship that limped along looking rudderless last year.
Last week’s win was a good one but this one was much better as it came on a day when the French were back at full-strength, with the players who had competed in the French domestic final all being selected.
It also came against a French team that showed a lot of huff and intent in the early phases.
Indeed, the Bok winning margin would not have been envisaged by many in a crowd of just under 42 000 when the French built up ominously in the early stages.
The French had felt the Boks might be a bit vulnerable out wide after Loftus and they hit bulls eye in their attempt to exploit that with big wing Yoann Huget pressing down the left flank and fullback Scott Spedding going over in the corner.
That was after just four minutes of play, at least by the time the conversion had been kicked, and when the big French team were pressing just metres from the line a few minutes later, with the prospect of taking a commanding lead, there might have been some uncomfortable memories of another game here not that long ago – the big defeat to Argentina in 2015.
But the Bok defence is both well organised and aggressive, and the defensive system was true to the promise of cutting down the space allowed to the French halfback pairing to make decisions.
There were some big hits put in to send a few jitters through the French players, and faced with the swarming Bok defence, the visitors struggled to sustain the early momentum.
Elton Jantjies, who by halftime boasted a place-kicking record for the series of 11 successful kicks in 11 attempts, kicked a penalty after six minutes, but it was in the 20th minute, when big Siya Kolisi surged up the left flank as the Bok worked with the ball, created space out wide and an inside pass found Jan Serfontein.
The inside centre enjoyed another outstanding outing in the No 12 jersey and he completed the try that capped his commanding performance.
TICKING THE BOXES
Kolisi though was the man who stood tallest for the Boks on the day, and he was to feature prominently in three of the four tries that the South Africans scored in confirming their comeback from the despair of 2016.
It was the try he scored that effectively blew the wind out of the French sails in the 27th minute, with Serfontein featuring as well with the clearance that he chased to put French flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc under pressure.
Trinh-Duc’s wild pass was brilliantly scooped up by the flanker, who powered 30 metres through the vacant space to the tryline to give the Boks a 17-7 lead.
The Boks, who had done well to blunt the early seething French physicality, were now in control of the game, and whereas the Boks conceded an early scrum penalty, it was mainly the hosts who exerted the pressure after that.
Two more Jantjies penalties propelled the Boks into a 23-7 lead, and it was unlikely from that commanding position that they would lose.
It was an excellent half of rugby from them, with all the component parts of the team ticking the boxes, and the French visibly appearing to lose heart.
The visitors did regather some of their drive immediately after the break, and it was then, in the third quarter of the game, that the resilience of the Boks, and their determination not to concede an inch to their opponents, shone through the brightest.
France were camped in Bok territory for long periods but just couldn’t breach the physical South African defensive line.
When they eventually did decide to kick for posts through Trinh-Duc to cut the deficit to 13 points the game had already gone beyond the hour mark.
And no sooner had Trinh-Duc raised the flags than it was the Boks who produced their finest passage of attacking rugby, with the big men in the forwards and the backs combining superbly in an upfield sweep that eventually put replacement prop Coenie Oosthuizen in with a run at the line from close range with one defender in front of him.
It was never going to be a contest, and it was no longer a contest on the scoreboard either after that, with the Boks ahead 30-10.
The French did have their endeavour rewarded with a good try through centre Damian Penaud, but it was that man Kolisi who had the final say when, with three minutes to go, he surged impressively through the French defences to put Jantjies in for a try that completed the rout.
Jantjies had missed his first place-kick attempt of the series just after halftime when a 50-metre kick fell short, but he completed his composed and assured performance at No 10 with a personal haul of 22 points through a try, four conversions and three penalties.
Oupa Mohoje was stretchered from the field after 14 minutes after appearing to be concussed in a high tackle attempt on the French No 8 Louis Picamoles and was replaced by Jean-Luc du Preez, who added impressive physicality to the Bok effort.
No sooner had he come onto the field than he had effected a turn-over, and he was an influential member of an impressive loose-trio for the remainder of the game.
Du Preez’s performance would have underlined what Coetzee had said beforehand about it being hard to leave some players out of his team, but there were several great personal performances on a night where the growth in the Bok confidence accelerated a good few notches higher than the levels already reached in Pretoria.
For South Africa:
Tries: Serfontein, Kolisi, Oosthuizen, Jantjies
Cons: Jantjies 4
Pens: Jantjies 3
Tries: Spedding, Penaud
South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds
France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Damian Penaud, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kévin Gourdon, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Romain Taofifeuna, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Clément Maynadier, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Julien le Devedec, 20 Bernard le Roux, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Nans Ducuing
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
(Thanks to SA Rugby)