Debutant Fassi scores as world champion Springboks make winning return

·3-min read
South Africa wing Aphelele Fassi (R) scores a try against Georgia in Pretoria on Friday just five minutes into his Test debut.

Debutant Aphelele Fassi scored as world champions South Africa hammered Georgia 40-9 in Pretoria on Friday as they returned to international rugby after a 20-month coronavirus pandemic-induced exile.

Playing for the first time since defeating England in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final in Japan, the Springboks were slow out of the blocks and trailed by four points after 25 minutes.

But a yellow card to flanker Beka Saginadze proved costly for the visitors, who conceded two tries when down to 14 men, and were upstaged in the second half as the class of the hosts told behind closed doors.

The match was the first in charge for Jacques Nienaber, who took over in January last year after Rassie Erasmus relinquished the head coach role and returned to his original post of director of rugby.

South Africa will play second-tier rugby nation Georgia again next Friday, in Johannesburg, as they prepare for a three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions from July 24.

"It was really tough in the first half, which was exactly what we expected," said South Africa captain and flanker Siya Kolisi.

"It took us a whole half to get momentum, but we got there slowly. We stuck to our guns. We are going to keep working hard.

"We need to brush up on a few things, but we are still focusing on Georgia (next week)."

Georgia captain and centre Merab Sharikadze said: "We were quite close to 'winning' the first half, but the Springboks are a great side, they are world champions. Every opportunity they get they take."

The South African run-on team included six starters from the World Cup final triumph, including Kolisi and fellow loose forward and reigning World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit.

- Georgia score first -

Georgia were forced to make one late change with Russia-based Ilia Spanderashvili replacing injured Giorgi Tsutskiridze in the back row and Irakli Tshakadze promoted to the bench.

It was only the second meeting between the countries with the Springboks winning 46-19 when they met at the group stage of the 2003 World Cup in Australia.

This convincing victory was anticipated despite the rustiness of the South Africans as they have won the World Cup a record-equalling three times and are ranked first in the world, 11 places above the Georgians.

Georgia were first to score on a cold mid-winter evening at a silent Loftus Versfeld stadium with fly-half Tedo Abzhandadze slotting a third-minute penalty.

But the lead lasted less than two minutes as wing Fassi took a pass from Du Toit and used pace and power to score in the corner.

South Africa were conceding numerous penalties and Abzhandadze took advantage to convert two and give the east Europeans a four-point lead with 25 minutes gone.

The sin-binning of Saginadze proved costly, though, for Georgia as South Africa scored two tries in his absence to lead 19-9 at half-time.

Hooker Bongi Mbonambi barged over for the first and scrum-half Cobus Reinach took advantage of a mistake by Abzhandadze to score between the posts. Pollard converted both tries.

The second half was one-way traffic toward the Georgia try-line and number eight Kwagga Smith and two replacements, scrum-half Herschel Jantjies and hooker Malcolm Marx, scored.

Pollard converted two before being replaced by Elton Jantjies, who added the extra points to the sixth and final try.