The French raced to a 23-0 lead at the break (courtesy of two converted tries and three penalty goals) and as hard as they tried in the second half, the gap remained too big to overhaul for the team in green and gold.
In the end, the slow start and lack of discipline in the opening half proved decisive.
France took an early lead when Diego Jurd kicking the first points of the match after his opponents went offside. The flyhalf had an easy kick option for poles and put his side 3-0 up after eight minutes of play.
At the same time, the SA U18s lost prop Ranon Fouche to injury and no sooner had play resumed, or Jurd was at it again, this time following a scrum penalty against the home side. The angle was a bit tighter and the distance more challenging, but the French pivot was on target again to push the lead to six points.
Discipline was a clear problem for the SA side, who conceded yet another kickable penalty three minutes later. Jurd against used the wind in his back to kick the ball through the uprights for a 9-0 lead.
At this stage, the team in blue had complete control of possession and territory, but unfortunately their handling wasn’t as sharp as they fluffed two clear try-scoring opportunities with the line in sight.
The SA side finally got into the game after 25 minutes of play. They enjoyed good continuity on attack and made it into the French red zone for the first time in the match. The SA U18s had three lineouts five meters from the French line, but could not make it over the line, mainly due to individual errors, either losing the ball or getting isolated and turned over.
It was from such a turn-over that the visitors struck with what was a typical French counter-attack, finished off by scrumhalf Temanatua Boichot under the SA poles. Jurd converted and was able to do so a minute later as another French attack from the restart ripped open the home defence once again, this time for wing Charly Mignot to score.
The two late tries raced France into a 23-0 lead at the break and it was clear that only a remarkable recovery would save the SA side from embarrassment.
That seemed to be on the cards in the opening minutes of the second half. A number of halftime changes made by SA U18 coach Katleho Lynch seemed to give the home side new energy and within minutes, replacement scrumhalf Haashim Pead was under the sticks.
A strong surge by South Africa from the kick-off had the French scrambling and when penalised, Pead tapped and was off to the races. Dominic Malgas converted to cut the lead to 23-7.
In a flash though, France came back with another blinder of a try, with several offloads and lovely interplay by the loose trio which ended with a try to replacement flanker Eliott Duthil. Jurd converted and the 23-point lead was restored.
Pead was not going down without a fight though and when the French pack was penalised at a scrum, the scrumhalf was off in a flash again. This time he found Janco Purchase in support and in full flight. The replacement centre scored in the corner, and Malgas converted from wide out to give the team in green and gold another sniff.
That was again short-lived, as the French put in a massive lineout drive from close range and off the back of it, hooker Gabin Garault forced himself over the SA line. Replacement flyhalf Luka Keletaona kicked the conversion from wide out for a 37-14 lead.
Pead again decided to take matters in his own hands and from a scrum close to the French line – with the visitors a man down due to a yellow card – he sniped around the corner to score. Again, a glimmer of hope with 10 minutes to play (37-19).
A Pead grubber paved the way for a late try to fullback Luyanda Kunene and that cut the lead to 14 points but only three minutes to go, they ran out of time.
In the first match of the day, England's U18s beat a WP XV by 78-15. South Africa and England clash on Saturday in Paarl in the last round of the series.
South Africa 24 (0) – Tries: Haashim Pead (2), Janco Purchase, Luyanda Kunene. Conversions: Dominic Malgas (2).
France 37 (23) – Tries: Temanatua Boichot, Charly Mignot, Eliott Duthil, Gabin Garault. Conversions: Diego Jurd (3), Luka Keletaona. Penalty goals: Jurd (3).