By Mark Gleeson
PRETORIA (Reuters) -South Africa took time to shrug off the rust as they returned after a 20-month absence to beat Georgia 40-9 at Loftus Versfeld on Friday in their first test since winning the 2019 World Cup.
The match was the first of two warm-up internationals against the Georgians in preparation for the three test series against the British & Irish Lions later this month.
The home side were 19-9 ahead at halftime and outscored their visitors six tries to nil but showed the effects of their long absence, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as they struggled to get rhythm to their play, gave away many penalties and were sloppy at times in a contest punctuated by frequent stops.
"It’s what we expected, it took us a whole half to get momentum going. It was a tough challenge and there is still a lot to work on," said South Africa captain Siya Xolisi.
"We are patient, we knew it would be slow and then the opportunities began to open up."
The Boks were outmuscled in the first scrum, allowing Georgia to go ahead with a penalty but that proved one of the few highlights for the tourists.
The hosts scored the first try when debutant Aphelele Fassi streaked away with his first touch of the ball after five minutes, and a pushover try from Bongi Mbonambi and dart to the line by scrumhalf Cobus Reinach added to the first-half score.
After the break there were more tries from Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies and Malcolm Marx while Handre Pollard kicked over four conversions and his replacement Elton Jantjies one.
Georgia’s points all came from penalties kicked over by Tebo Abzhandadze and they did not score in the last 55 minutes but will take encouragement from some tough defending against a home side who were perhaps expecting an easier outing.
"Silly mistakes made the score bigger than we wanted it to be. The Springboks don’t miss those opportunities," said Georgia skipper Merab Sharikadze.
South Africa, who had not played a home test in 688 days, host Georgia in the second test at Ellis Park in Johannesburg next Friday. Their first test against the Lions is on July 24 in Cape Town.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris)