South Africa coach Allister Coetzee paid tribute to the character of his “unbelievable” players after they hit back from last week’s record defeat to Ireland to beat France in Paris.
The Springboks have had a rollercoaster year with an all-time record 57-0 defeat to New Zealand in September before their worst reverse against Ireland, 38-3 a week ago.
But they have also enjoyed some good moments, winning their first five Tests this year, pushing the All Blacks to within just one point last month and then edging out France 18-17 on Saturday.
“It’s unbelievable and it’s a sign that there’s something special in this team,” said Coetzee. “We had five wins on the trot then we drew to Australia and then had a big setback against New Zealand with the fifty-zero.
“But then we bounced back again against Australia with a draw after a big defeat and that shows character. And after that we went to Newlands and lost by one point (to the All Blacks).
“Then we went to Ireland and we got it wrong completely, 38-3, and then again under huge pressure on tour we bounced back with a win.
“That says a lot about the character of the team, it says a lot about the team environment and the accountability the players are prepared to take on.”
What also pleased Coetzee was that for the first time this year, his players had managed to carry a close encounter over the line.
“We drew two against Australia this year and lost by one point to New Zealand and those close games we couldn’t really finish them off.
“And in France… under huge pressure, we could finish and close this one out and win it.”
Tries from Dillyn Leyds and Jesse Kriel helped offset a poor kicking display by fly-half Handre Pollard, who came in for Elton Jantjies but missed four of seven shots at goal.
‘His confidence came back’
“Handre Pollard obviously has been training with us for a very long time and he hasn’t had a lot of game time,” said Coetzee.
“Despite the poor goal-kicking, the sub-standard goal-kicking — not his best at all — he slotted a kick at the right time and we see how his confidence came back from that.
“His general play normally is good, I’ve got no problem (with that). He’s a big physical 10, he can take the ball to the line and what is pleasing is to see that his goal-kicking didn’t affect his play.”
However, Coetzee said game management was an area in which both his outside halves could improve.
“Both Elton and Handre are still really getting to grips with getting the territorial battle won for us at this point in time. We did overplay a bit today at some stages but it’s a step in the right direction.”
After seeing his side lose for the 13th time in 20 internationals since taking over the France reins two years ago, Guy Noves brushed aside questions about his position.
“I don’t worry about my future — I’m a father, I have three children, everyone’s well,” he said.
“I have no control over my future in terms of results. Ask those who do control it.”
France were ahead by a point when replacement scrum-half Baptiste Serin was yellow carded for tugging back Malcolm Marx’s jersey off the ball just before the hour mark.
France conceded 10 points while he was in the sin bin and although he came back onto the field to score France’s second try, it wasn’t enough.
“He gives the impression of being experienced but he’s young,” said Noves of the 23-year-old.
“He didn’t do it to kill the team, but he does need to learn.”