SAINT-DENIS, France — France coach Guy Noves was given the tall order of winning three of the four rugby matches this month and has done the opposite.
The 18-17 loss to South Africa on Saturday followed two to New Zealand and heaped the pressure on Noves heading into the last home match against Japan next weekend.
It could prove to be also his last in a tortuous two-year reign that his seen him fail to improve France much since he took charge after the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Noves reacted with an equal measure of anger and sarcasm when asked if he was worried for his future.
“With all due respect, you’re tiring me with this question. I won’t answer questions about it,” he said. “I don’t ask myself questions about my future. I’m a family man, I have three children, and everyone’s fine, thanks.
“If my future depends on defeats,” he added irritably, “I can’t control that. You should ask the questions to the people who own my future.”
That answer, then, resides with French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte, who set him the target.
For the Springboks, this first win in Europe since the Rugby World Cup made some amends for the horror 38-3 loss in Ireland last weekend.
“A lot of relief, I would say, and also pleased and satisfied for the effort from the players,” Springboks coach Allister Coetzee said. “It’s always tough here in France.”
Coetzee praised the “accountability” of his players.
“It says a lot about the character of the players. If this don’t go well it can easily become a blame game,” he said. “The players understood what went wrong and how we fix it. (But) there’s still a huge room for improvement.”
On a chilly night, South Africa right winger Dillyn Leyds and France flyhalf Anthony Belleau scored their first international tries, both in a scrappy first half that ended 8-7 to the Springboks.
Center Jesse Kriel seemed to have finished off the French with a try confirmed after a TMO review.
But then replacement scrumhalf Baptiste Serin ducked under a couple of tackles for a converted try to set up a frantic final three minutes.
It proved too late, as the Springboks beat France for the fourth time this year.
South Africa was reeling after the Ireland debacle, while the French were also in payback mood after being soundly beaten by New Zealand 38-18.
Noves surprisingly kept the same side, while Coetzee unsurprisingly made 10 changes.
Belleau slotted over a penalty early in the second half to put the French briefly ahead, but only because opposite Handre Pollard left his kicking boots in the Stade de France dressing room.
He missed three penalties and a conversion, the third penalty miss a woeful slice wide from near the posts after 55 minutes.
Then he found his range, slotting one and converting Kriel’s try for 18-10 with about 15 minutes left.
Belleau’s late penalty attempt from wide left missed and the home side’s efforts petered out until Serin showed quick thinking to squeeze his slim frame through the South Africa defense.
France beat South Africa midweek for the right to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, in what was a major coup for Laporte.
Noves should hope he’s still in a good mood, or the Japan game might prove to be his last.
“We’ll play with the players we have, if we’re all still here,” Noves said with a smile.
France’s sixth straight loss to South Africa includes three in June when the French lost heavily on tour.