Springboks back in action after 2 years to beat Georgia 40-9

July 2, 2021 GMT
South Africa's Aphelele Fassi, right, scores a try as Georgia's Demur Tapladze tackles during first test rugby match between South Africa and Georgia at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
South Africa's Aphelele Fassi, right, scores a try as Georgia's Demur Tapladze tackles during first test rugby match between South Africa and Georgia at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
South Africa's Aphelele Fassi, right, scores a try as Georgia's Demur Tapladze tackles during first test rugby match between South Africa and Georgia at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
1 of 10
South Africa's Aphelele Fassi, right, scores a try as Georgia's Demur Tapladze tackles during first test rugby match between South Africa and Georgia at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
1 of 10
South Africa's Aphelele Fassi, right, scores a try as Georgia's Demur Tapladze tackles during first test rugby match between South Africa and Georgia at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — South Africa was predictably slow to get going in its first test in nearly two years before the world champion stretched away in the second half to beat Georgia 40-9 on Friday in a warmup for the British and Irish Lions series.

The Springboks trailed 9-5 after 35 minutes in Pretoria but two tries in two minutes just before halftime gave them momentum straight after Georgia flanker Beka Saghinadze was sent to the sin-bin.

From there, rugby’s top-ranked team found forward dominance and scored three tries in each half for an ultimately comfortable win over a team outside the world’s top 10. It was a satisfactory first hit out for the Boks since winning the Rugby World Cup final in Japan in their last match way back in November 2019.

“It’s exactly what we expected,” Springboks captain Siya Kolisi said. “We know we haven’t played in two years so we knew it was going to be slow for us.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Those 20 months without test rugby because of the coronavirus pandemic showed at Loftus Versfeld. The Springboks misjudged the kickoff, gave away a penalty in the first scrum, and struggled to get it together as Georgia made their tackles, competed at the breakdown, and generally made life tough.

Georgia flyhalf Tedo Abzhandadze kicked three early penalties and although Springboks wing Aphelele Fassi sped down the left touchline to score with his first touch in international rugby in the fourth minute, the Georgians were ahead for most of the first half.

It turned when Abzhandadze was punished for Georgia’s persistent infringing near its line.

South Africa hooker Bongi Mbonambi barreled over from a lineout maul after that penalty and scrumhalf Cobus Reinach added another try straight after when Georgia’s defense misjudged a kick through and it sat up for Reinach to collect and race clear.

There were second-half tries for No. 8 Kwagga Smith and replacements Herschel Jantjies and Malcolm Marx to ensure Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber had a win in his first test in charge despite being appointed more than a year ago.

The Springboks were largely in warmup mode, turning down shots at goal from every kickable penalty they were awarded to rather go for touch and work their lineout and maul, which produced two of the six tries.

There were also debuts for starting wings Fassi and Rosko Specman and loose forward Jasper Wiese off the bench. South Africa started with an experimental front row and a backup center combination, and Rugby World Cup stars Faf de Klerk, Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi weren’t in the 23.

Still, eight players who won the World Cup final against England ran on with another four coming off the bench.

South Africa plays a second test against Georgia in Johannesburg next Friday when it needs to be at near full pace after its long layoff with the three-test series against the touring British and Irish Lions starting on July 24.

The Lions open their tour against South African domestic team the Lions on Saturday.

___

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sport