Autumn Nations Series: Five takeaways from France v South Africa as Wayne Barnes gets the big decisions right

Pieter-Steph du Toit sent off for South Africa Credit: Alamy
Pieter-Steph du Toit sent off for South Africa Credit: Alamy

Following a 30-26 victory for France over South Africa in their Autumn Nations Series fixture, here’s our five takeaways from the match.

A Test match for the ages

We can’t think of too many better matches in recent times. In terms of physicality and drama, it was a remarkable spectacle, with the sides going toe-to-toe throughout the 80 minutes. There are both positives and negatives for the respective teams but, with just under a year to go until the Rugby World Cup, France and South Africa currently look best placed.

The Springboks showed that, despite criticism of their attacking game, they will always be a threat in the global tournament because their fundamentals are so strong. Against one of the best packs in the world, Jacques Nienaber’s men absolutely bullied the French in the maul and also had joy at the scrum and breakdown.

Les Bleus did well to stem the tide at just the right moment, however, with their replacements doing an excellent job late on to set up the position for Sipili Falatea’s try. They also have a tremendous spirit, something which you can rarely describe the French side as having over the past 15 years, and that got them over the line.

Wayne Barnes gets the big decisions right

Inevitably when so much happens, there is plenty of talk centred on the man in the middle, but we think Barnes had an exceptional game. There was certainly no disputing the two red cards, with Pieter-Steph du Toit and Antoine Dupont both deservedly sent off for reckless challenges, while he was also consistent at the breakdown.

Sekou Macalou was unfortunate when the referee deemed that a tackle on the flanker-cum-wing had been completed when it actually hadn’t, but that was the only clear mistake in an excellent display. South Africans weren’t happy with the final try but from our point of view it wasn’t a double movement. France’s replacement prop kept his knee off the ground and ended up burrowing his way over.

Sekou Macalou is a one-man Bomb Squad

While the Springboks are renowned for their impressive impact off the bench, France it seems have their own ‘Bomb Squad’ that consists of just one man, Macalou.

It was an outstanding performance from the back-row as he replaced the injured inside centre Jonathan Danty, which caused a reshuffle to the French backline early in the game.

While Macalou has played on the wing at club level and has all the tools necessary to flourish as a rampaging wide man, to perform at that level against someone like Cheslin Kolbe needs appreciating as he defended superbly and also carried with purpose on a night he will probably never forget.

Positives for South Africa

Although they finished on the losing side, there were some positive signs which the Springboks can build on ahead of next weekend’s encounter against Italy in Genoa. Leading the way was the experienced backline duo of Willie le Roux and Faf de Klerk, who both played prominent roles as the Boks launched a brave fightback while Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi also impressed amongst the forwards.

After receiving some criticism after their loss to Ireland, the Bok forwards put in a huge shift and laid a solid platform for their backs, who looked to make use of the opportunities presented to them. The likes of Le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse looked dangerous with ball in hand and kept France’s defenders on their toes throughout. Hopefully, they’ll build on this performance against the Azzurri, who are in a confident mood after back-to-back victories against Samoa and Australia.

France quietly edging towards consecutive win record

Yes, the World Cup trophy is the main objective for Les Bleus but there’s an accolade that doesn’t bring with it silverware that could possibly soon be coming their way. France are currently on 12 successive Test match victories and are closing in on the Tier One record of 18 that is held by England and New Zealand.

Next on their schedule is a very winnable game against Japan before the Six Nations arrives in February next year. Should they claim another Grand Slam that would put them level on the English and All Blacks’ classes of 2015-2017 and 2015-2016 respectively. Could they do that and possibly beat that mark? Why not?

READ MORE: France player ratings: Sekou Macalou shows his versatility as Springboks downed in Marseille

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