15 November 2010
The Springboks played a poor first half against Wales, but then produced some sublime moments in the second half as they fought back to slay the Dragons 29-25 in Cardiff on Saturday.
The feeling, overall, will be that there were more positives than negatives in the game for the Boks because of the depth of character needed to overcome a deficit of 17-6, and later 20-9 early in the second half.
Wales had been the better team until then and deserved their lead, but South Africa’s improvement in the second stanza was marked and it enabled them to avoid only a second loss to the Welsh.
The players will know, however, that they will need to be a lot better in their remaining tests against Scotland and England if they wish to secure a prized Grand Slam of victories.
While the Scots suffered a huge 49-3 loss to New Zealand at Murrayfield this past weekend, England inflicted a big 35-18 loss on Australia. That win sounded a warning that the English are on the up again and could prove a very tough test for the Springboks. Indeed, New Zealand managed only a 26-16 win over them.
In amongst some mediocre performances there were some players who stood out for the Springboks. Man of the match Pierre Spies had probably his best game in the green and gold. He consistently powered over Welsh defenders, forcing more than one man to bring him down, throughout the game.
Willem Alberts, a second half substitute, was immense and was the bulldozing physical presence that was so dominant for the Sharks during the Absa Currie Cup. His try early in the second half brought South Africa back into a game that they had struggled in.
Hooker Bismarck du Plessis was immense, a constant source of energy and go-forward ball. He is in the form of his life and because of this the biggest question in South African rugby right now is whether or not there will be place for regular captain John Smit in 2011, a World Cup year.
Sadly for the Springboks, they lost winger Bjorn Basson to an ankle injury that has ruled him out of the rest of the tour. He had little opportunity to show the attacking skills that helped him to a Currie Cup record of 21 tries this past season, but he did show an impressive ability to chase and claim high-up-and-unders.
On the bright side, Basson’s loss could be an opportunity for Lwazi Mvovo, an exciting runner with the ball, to earn his first cap on the wing. He was second behind Basson among try scorers in the past season.
The start of the game resembled the start of the test against Ireland a week ago with South Africa maintaining possession nicely and forcing a penalty which the reliable Morne Steyn converted to put South Africa into an early lead.
Wales produced a fine response. After being awarded a penalty, they chose not to go for posts, but kicked for touch instead. They were rewarded when, after winning the lineout and sending the ball down the backline, 18-year-old debutant George North looped around the centres to knife untouched through the South African defence for a try.
Stephen Jones slotted the easy conversion to give the home team a 7-3 advantage.
In the 17th minute, the Welsh created space on the left hand flank. When winger Shane Williams saw prop Jannie du Plessis in front of him, he easily rounded the big man. That opened up passes for Williams to either side. He opted for an inside ball to Hook, who race through to round off a fantastic move just to the left of the uprights. Jones converted to make it 14-3 to the home side.
It didn’t take long for South Africa to pull back three points as Steyn hit the mark with a penalty. However, Wales went 11 points ahead again when Jones responded for the Welsh.
Just before the halftime whistle, South Africa added another three points through Steyn to make it 17-9, but the half had clearly belonged to Wales.
Eleven point deficit
Only three minutes into the second half Wales improved their lead to 11 points when Jones struck another penalty. It appeared there would be no way back for the Springboks as the Welsh dominance appeared worth more than the points’ difference.
Steyn then managed his fourth penalty in five attempts at goal to make it Wales 20, South Africa 12.
SA coach Pieter de Villiers opted to make a couple of changes, including bringing on Willem Alberts for Deon Stegmann. He was almost immediately awarded.
After moving deep into Welsh territory, the Boks forced a ruck near the Welsh line. Alberts, seeing an opportunity, called for a pass to the blind side. He took the ball and with Christopher Czekaj on his back powered his way over the tryline with his first touch in tghe green and gold.
The deadly boot of Steyn brought South Africa to within a point of the Welsh, with his conversion making it Wales 20, South Africa 19.
Almost immediately, the Springboks swept back onto the attack and into the Welsh 22. Bismarck du Plessis drove the ball up and Juan Smith then forced another ruck. The ball was moved down the backline to the right. Using Jean de Villiers cleverly, captain Victor Matfield sold a dummy, broke inside, and, using his height, dived over for an excellent score.
Another Steyn conversion took South Africa 26-20 clear and the match had changed dramatically.
Wales were not done, however, and as full of fight as ever. In the 57th minute they hit back with a try. A pinpoint cross field kick by Jones and a kind bounce for North saw the big winger dot down for the second time in his first international.
Jones failed to hit the target from the touchline and South Africa held onto a narrow one-point lead.
With 15 minutes to go, Wales were penalised for going offsides with South Africa on the attack inside the Welsh 22. Steyn had an easy kick from directly in front of the posts which gave the Springboks a 29-25 lead and, crucially, meant Wales would need more than a penalty to win.
With time running out, Wales launched a desparate assault on the South African tryline, but stubborn and effective defence kept them at bay as South Africa held on for a very tough victory.
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