Two red cards, one to Pieter-Steph du Toit in the first half and one to Antoine Dupont in the second, highlighted a desperate 30-26 (halftime 16-10) win for France over the Springboks in their end-of-year-tour match at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille on Saturday night.
It was a wild match that saw the Boks fightback superbly to take the lead in the second half, only for a late yellow card to see them finish the game with 13 men, which galvanised the French to retake the lead and seal a desperate win in the end.
France were already 3-0 up from an early penalty to fullback Thomas Ramos when Du Toit received his marching orders in the 10th minute, after an attempted clean out of French inside centre Jonathan Danty ended with head on head contact.
It was desperately unlucky for Du Toit who had no malice in the clean out, but a combination of Danty being on his knees and Du Toit getting nudged from behind by his own team mate, saw him collide with the opposing player and get a deserved red.
In the 16th minute France earned a penalty in a similar position to their first when the Boks went offside in their 22m, with Ramos knocking it over to go up 6-0.
The French were starting to build up a head of steam and in the 20th minute a good move off a lineout got them close, where the recycled ball from prop Cyril Baille to reach over and score, with Ramos extras putting them ahead 13-0.
In the 25th minute the Boks then earned a penalty just in the French half, on the angle, with wing Cheslin Kolbe surprisingly stepping up to have a shot from at least 50m out, and he then proceeded to slot it superbly to get the visitors on the board.
Four minutes later the Boks kicked a penalty deep into the French 22m, set up the maul off the lineout and powered it towards the line, with captain Siya Kolisi then breaking off and diving over to score, as Kolbe added the extras to firmly bring them back into the game at 13-10.
Ramos however had the final say of the half, with a late penalty on halftime going through the uprights to give the hosts a six point lead at the break.
The second half then saw Kolbe and Ramos trade early penalty, as the score moved to 19-13 after 46 minutes.
It was then Dupont’s turn to get his marching orders in the 48th minute as he recklessly took out Kolbe trying to field an up and under in the air, which saw him go off for a head assessment, leading to ref Wayne Barnes handing out a second deserved red of the night.
The Boks straight away setup a lineout on the five, but France defended the maul illegally a couple of times resulting in more penalties, with the Boks persisting with going to the corner, and it finally paid off in the 51st minute.
After France finally defended a maul legitimately the Boks attacked one way and back the other, with a skip pass to right wing Kurt-Lee Arendse seeing him dive over in the corner, followed by scrumhalf Faf de Klerk stepping up to slot the touchline conversion to take a one point lead.
Five minutes later De Klerk was at it again, nailing a long range penalty to put the Boks four points ahead, only for Ramos to respond with his fifth successful penalty of the night in the 60th minute to drag France back to a point behind at 23-22.
With De Klerk then substituted, a penalty to the Boks in the 64th minute saw their third different kicker of the night, as Damian Willemse duly nailed the tricky penalty from an angle to move them into a 26-22 lead.
The Boks were then further reduced, to 13-men this time, as they brought down a French maul on their 5m illegally, as replacement loose forward Deon Fourie was sent to the bin, meaning they would play the final 10 minutes a man short.
The extra man was exactly what France needed to move back in front as replacement prop Sipili Falatea forced his way over from a close range pick and drive, however they were lucky that the ref lost communication with the TMO at the same point as it looked like a double movement.
Ramos with a relatively easy conversion attempt missed his first kick of the night, but made up for it with a penalty a few minutes later to push France into a 30-26 lead that they held onto over the final two minutes to complete a desperate win.
France: Tries – Cyril Baille, Sipili Falatea; Conversion – Thomas Ramos; Penalties: Ramos (6)
Springboks: Tries – Siya Kolisi, Kurt-Lee Arendse; Conversions: Cheslin Kolbe, Faf de Klerk; Penalties – Kolbe (2), De Klerk, Damian Willemse