11 November 2013
The Springboks began their tour of the northern hemisphere on a strong note at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday night, outscoring Six Nations champions Wales three tries to nil in a 24-15 victory.
The Welsh had provided the vast majority of the British and Irish Lions team that defeated Australia earlier this year and had high hopes going into the contest against the Boks, but the men in green and gold defused their challenge as they have so often in the past to improve their record against the Dragons to 25 wins, a single loss and a draw.
By no means were the Springboks near their best, but that underlined the fact that Heyneke Meyer’s charges have improved considerably in 2013. The most obvious difference between the teams was South Africa’s finishing, which brought them three tries, and Wales’ inability to finish.
Wales enjoyed an edge in territory and possession, but they never looked as if they would breach the Springboks’ try line. In fact, after they had made decent ground, they subsequently often found themselves forced backwards by the very physical South African defence.
Willem Alberts stood out, both on attack and defence, regularly making the hard yards and time after time driving Welsh runners back in heavy tackles.
The Boks gang tackling and their ability to turn over possession made a huge difference in the game, although some of referee Alain Rolland’s decision-making was head-scratching, to say the least.
The tight scrums, unfortunately, were also a lottery on the poor playing surface at the Millennium Stadium and one must question the decision by the Welsh Rugby Union to keep the roof open when it had the ability to close it.
Resets were the order of the day and referee Rolland eventually lost patience with the front rows and put both sides on a team warning. This led to the ridiculous sight of Coenie Oosthuizen coming as a substitute and immediately being sin-binned seconds later after the scrum went down again. Gethin Jenkins was sent off at the same time.
With the pitch breaking up alarmingly, Rolland might have been better served moving the scrums about a little in search of better footing.
Both teams were hampered by injuries, with the Welsh losing three players within the first 20 minutes, including two front rankers, while the Springboks lost Morne Steyn early in the contest. The Welsh losses led to uncontested scrums when Rolland sent Oosthuizen and Jenkins off for 10 minutes, while the loss of Steyn led to the Boks losing some of their structure.
Very solid performance
Pat Lambie moved from fullback to flyhalf and failed to make an impact. On the other hand, Willie le Roux, who was brought on off the bench to take over at fullback, turned in a very solid performance. His decision-making was excellent – he seems to see things before others – and he helped to push the Welsh back into their half with his clever kicking.
The tricky conditions required someone to step up and take control of the game. Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez did just that. His tactical kicking got better and better as the match progressed and put the home team under pressure. It also resulted in South Africa’s third try.
After turning over possession, a well-placed kick by Du Preez with the left foot put Wales under pressure down the left flank. Then, when the ball sat up, Jaques Fourie grabbed it and turned inside in one movement, passing to the supporting Du Preez, who shrugged off a despairing tackle to run clear for the Springboks’ third try.
The other two Bok tries were impressive too. The first began deep inside their half when Bryan Habana saw Richard Hibbard in front of him and used his pace to round the hooker and flash past an attempted tackle by George North. After flying up the middle of the field, Habana found Bismarck du Plessis in support. He flattened a would-be tackler before off-loading to captain Jean de Villiers, who crashed over the try line with two tacklers on his back.
South Africa’s second try put an exclamation point on their dominance of the driving maul in the game. It came from a lineout and ended with Bismarck du Plessis spinning out of a tackle to dot down.
‘We started really well’
“We really started well and we knew it would be important,” De Villiers said of the two early tries after the match.
“We managed to build a nice lead of 17-6 and although Wales fought back to trail by only two points at one stage, we still felt in control.
“I think in the end our experience showed in the way in which we closed out the game.”
Ultimately, it was a good win over a good side at a very tough venue for the Springboks, but they’ll be looking for considerable improvement when they meet Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday, 17 November, and France at the Stade de France on Saturday, 23 November.