Roberts and Faletau offer hope amid despair


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The Independent Online

Wales have made such an art form of narrow defeats to the southern hemisphere superpowers (and let's leave aside the many hammerings for the time being) that if it was possible to lose by a tenth of a point, you know they would've managed it yesterday.

Dear God, the cornflakes must have been flying back home, together with curses to make a docker blush, as Jamie Roberts battered the fly-half channel on angles that would have made Pythagaros drool and the Cardiffian centre combined with Toby Faletau (right) the young Tongan-Welshman whose try so nearly – but not quite – upset the world champions. No wonder Warren Gatland, Wales' New Zealander head coach, could barely get his post-match comments out through gritted teeth at the conclusion of yet another one that got away.

It was to the credit of South Africa that when forced to scramble for their lives, they did so effectively enough to repel three great chances for Wales in the "red zone" close to their goal-line early in the second half. When they did concede Faletau's try, set up by the rampaging Roberts to trail 16-10, some wise substitutions by the Springboks rescued the game.

A second Welsh win in 26 meetings looked on for long periods in the second half thanks to the directness of the way the Welsh took their attacks to South Africa – not flitting around the edges with twinkling feet, but belligerently up the guts of a team who had kicked off with a world-record 815 caps and nine of the starting XV who had been victorious in the 2007 final. Wales – callow, brave, mostly coordinated – had nine members of their starting line-up making World Cup debuts.

Rhys Priestland's wayward dropped-goal attempt in the 70th minute and James Hook's off-target penalty three minutes later will be mourned as the most obvious missed chances. Neither man should hang his head; they did enough that was good elsewhere.

The same goes for the 22-year-old captain, Sam Warburton, who ripped ball from South Africans in the manner of a pit bull tearing meat from a bone. Warburton's bonce may need to be bathed in ice instead to soothe the inevitable bruises and also to deal with the lurking headache that his side may have to do all of this again to get the results they need in the matches against Samoa and Fiji.