Newbie Aphelele Fassi scored on Friday as world champions South Africa hammered Georgia 40-9 in Pretoria as they returned to international rugby after a 20-month exile induced by a coronavirus pandemic.
Playing for the first time since losing to England in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final in Japan, the Springboks were slow to come out of the blocks and were down by four points after 25 minutes.
But a yellow card to flanker Beka Saginadze proved costly for the visitors, who conceded two tries with just 14 men remaining, and were eclipsed in the second half by the host class behind closed doors.
The match was first in charge of Jacques Nienaber, who took over in January last year after Rassie Erasmus stepped down as head coach and returned to his original post of director of rugby.
South Africa will face second-division 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, it was exactly what we expected,” said South African captain and flanker Siya Kolisi.
“It took us half an hour to gain momentum, but we got there slowly. We held on. We will continue to work hard.
“We need to revisit some things, but our focus is still on Georgia (next week). “
Georgian captain and center Merab Sharikadze said: “We were very close to ‘winning’ the first half, but the Springboks are a great team, they are world champions. Every opportunity they have, they take it. “
The South African squad included six holders of the World Cup final triumph, including Kolisi and his other loose striker and reigning world rugby player Pieter-Steph du Toit.
– Georgia scores first –
Georgia were forced to make a late change, with Russia’s Ilia Spanderashvili replacing injured Giorgi Tsutskiridze at the back and Irakli Tshakadze promoted to the bench.
This was only the second meeting between the countries, with the Springboks winning 46-19 when they met in the group stage of the 2003 World Cup in Australia.
This convincing victory was expected despite the rust of the South Africans as they won the World Cup a record three times and are ranked first in the world, 11 places above the Georgians.
Georgia were the first to score on a cold winter evening at a quiet Loftus Versfeld stadium with opening half Tedo Abzhandadze scoring a third-minute penalty.
But the lead lasted less than two minutes as winger Fassi took a pass from Du Toit and used his pace and power to score in the corner.
South Africa conceded plenty of penalties and Abzhandadze took the opportunity to convert two and give the East Europeans a four-point lead with 25 minutes of play.
Eliminating Saginadze’s sin, however, proved costly for Georgia as South Africa scored two tries in their absence to lead 19-9 at halftime.
Hooker Bongi Mbonambi burst in for scrum first and half Cobus Reinach took advantage of an Abzhandadze error to score between the posts. Pollard converted both tries.
The second half was a one-way street to the Georgia try line and number eight Kwagga Smith and two substitutes, scrum-half Herschel Jantjies and hooker Malcolm Marx, scored.
Pollard converted two before being replaced by Elton Jantjies, who added the extra points on the sixth and final down.
© 2021 AFP