SOUTH AFRICA CEMENTED their status as the second best team on the planet with a 19-10 win over France in Paris on Saturday.
Having already beaten Six Nations champions Wales 24-15 and crushed Scotland 28-0 on their November tour to the northern hemisphere, the Springboks ensured they ended their year with a 10th win in 12 matches.
Only world champions and undisputed number one team New Zealand have managed to beat South Africa in 2013.
And the hosts never looked capable of causing an upset at the Stade de France despite the close scoreline, as South Africa dominated particularly in terms of territory.
Before the match South Africa captain Jean de Villiers had spoken of the need to start well and not give away an early try, as they had done on their last visit to France.
His team were paying attention, but not the hosts.
With the game barely a minute old, Morgan Parra’s clearing kick from his own 22 was charged down by JP Pietersen, who then had an easy chase to touch down for the opening try, converted by Morne Steyn.
That set the tone for an error-strewn first half from Les Bleus.
Parra missed a penalty to the left of the posts after slipping on turf that had previously been badly churned up by a succession of scrums.
No.8 Damien Chouly seemed keen to challenge Parra for worst mishap as he first dropped a high ball and then put full-back Brice Dulin in a world of trouble with a horribly over-cooked pass.
The visitors were well in control, camping down in the France half courtesy of some pinpoint tactical kicking from full-back Willie Le Roux.
The only surprise was that they managed only to extend their lead by two Steyn penalties.
Yet France were given a lifeline on the stoke of half-time as South Africa struggled to deal with a kick-off and Pascal Pape stole the ball out of the back of a ruck before popping it to Parra to send Yoann Huget sliding in at corner.
Parra kicked the extras and it was game on, with the Springboks leading 13-7 at the break.
Frustratingly for coach Philippe Saint-Andre, though, France switched off at the start of the second half too, allowing De Villiers to pick the ball off the ground and run past Yoann Maestri before passing to Jacques Fourie to go over.
But this time, the video referee saved the hosts, adjudging Steyn to have knocked on in the build up when he failed to take Ruan Pienaar’s pass.
France were living dangerously and they survived again on 50 minutes after Le Roux’s grubber deep in the hosts’ 22 caused carnage, but Huget just got back to touch the ball before Francois Louw and prevent a certain try — once more the video referee making the call.
The game was finely balanced but a late hit from substitute lock Sebastien Vahaamahina allowed Steyn to kick his third penalty and stretch South Africa’s lead to two scores.
Any chance France had of an unlikely comeback, given South Africa were dominating territorially anyway, seemed to end when substitute prop Thomas Domingo was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Bryan Habana 12 minutes from time.
But five minutes later Louw was given his marching orders after pushing Pape in the face in a ruck and substitute scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain kicked the penalty to bring France back to within a score.
But Springbok substitute fly-half Patrick Lambie had the last word with a penalty two minutes from time.