Rugby Union: Wales' perfect house warming

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Wales 29 South Africa 19

Tries: Taylor, G Thomas Tries: Swanepoel,

Cons: Jenkins 2 Montgomery

Pens: Jenkins 5 Pens: Van Straaten 2, Du Toit

Half-time: 19-6 Attendance: 27,000

WHAT A christening. The freshly laid turf at the Millennium Stadium has already taken on hallowed status after Wales defeated South Africa, the reigning world champions, for the first time in history. With the guidance of the New Zealander Graham Henry, Wales seem to have found a team to not only grace the most imposing ground in Britain but also the World Cup in the autumn.

The crowd was restricted to 27,500 - the stadium will not be finished until August - but they generated a wall of noise to celebrate a historic occasion in style. "That was the number one success of my career," Henry, a man who enjoyed unparalleled success with Auckland, said. "The guys showed a huge amount of courage and we played some wonderful football. We had to ask ourselves whether we really had it in us and we showed that we did. The atmosphere was incredible and what it will be like with 72,500 people... words fail me."

This was the 13th match in the series between the countries and the closest Wales had gone to ending Springbok supremacy was a draw at the old Cardiff Arms Park in 1970. The alarming decline in Welsh fortunes reached its nadir 12 months ago when they were slaughtered 96-13 by South Africa in Pretoria.

However, Wales gave the Springboks a huge fright at their temporary home, Wembley, last winter and they went into this match with a run of five victories, all outside the Principality.

As for South Africa they arrived to commemorate the opening night on the back of a 101-0 destruction of Italy. In modern rugby a year is clearly a long time and for the homecoming Henry's Wales had undergone a startling transformation. From the annihilated to the anointed.

Beforehand Henry had said that to compete against the Southern Hemisphere countries, Europe needed a Super 12-style tournament and last night he still said: "Wales are a modest side with a long way to go".

There was nothing modest about their performance here and although it was two tries apiece, Wales thoroughly deserved a triumph which ended 93 years of South African superiority. The Welsh forwards provided a platform, the defence was outstanding and then, of course, there was Neil Jenkins. The stand-off scored 19 points with five penalties, and two conversions and he also had a hand in both Wales's tries.

The first came on the stroke of half-time when they were leading 12-6. Although the Welsh had lost a line-out, Colin Charvis regained possession and, with the tables turned, Mark Taylor breached a hitherto watertight defence to score near the posts.

Trailing 19-6, the Springboks came out in the second half in search of the big game. They laid siege to the Welsh line for 20 minutes but had only a try from Werner Swanepoel to show for it. Even so when they kicked their third penalty midway through the second half, they had reduced the deficit to only five points.

A measure of the character of this Welsh side is that instead of going down, they came off the ropes to deliver a knock-out blow. On almost their first incursion into South African territory in the second half, Scott Quinnell, who seems to be getting stronger with every game, made a hugely destructive run from a scrum and when the ball was smartly transferred to Jenkins he sent Gareth Thomas over on the right wing.

Needless to say Jenkins converted from the touchline and then added his fifth penalty. With 13 minutes remaining the Springboks, despite all their pressure, were 15 points adrift. Although Percy Montgomery scored their second try in the 76th minute, indiscipline had cost them dearly.

Wales had led from the first minute when Jenkins, who had taken a big hit from Corne Krige, picked himself up to land the first of his penalties. His opposite number Braam Van Straaten replied in kind after eight minutes but South African mistakes, not to mention the odd act of skulduggery, enabled Jenkins to do what he does best - bisect the posts.

The new stadium's first punch-up arrived in the 13th minute after Scott Quinnell had been knocked to the ground and the ensuing multifaceted fight confirmed that this was a baptism of fire rather than water.

"We've made huge strides but we've got to keep our feet on the ground," Henry added. But what a feat and what a ground; although not everything went to plan. The kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes because the turnstiles refused to turn. The announcement, in Corporal Jones fashion, advised the crowd: "Don't panic." It is as well the hitch was discovered yesterday and not on 1 October when Wales open the World Cup against Argentina.

In fact, the kick-off was further delayed by the late appearance of the Welsh. The crowd, losing patience, broke into a slow hand-clap. Wales, however, were worth waiting for.

Wales: S Howarth (Sale); G Thomas (Cardiff), M Taylor (Swansea), A Bateman (Northampton), D James (Pontypridd); N Jenkins (Pontypridd) R Howley (Cardiff, capt); P Rogers (Newport), G Jenkins (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff), C Quinnell (Cardiff), C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), S Quinnell (Llanelli), B Sinkinson (Neath). Replacements: M Voyle (Llanelli) for C Quinnell, 19; J Humphreys (Cardiff) for G Jenkins, 80; B Evans (Swansea) for Rogers, 80.

South Africa: P Montgomery (Western Province); S Terblanche (Natal Sharks), P Muller (Natal Sharks), J Mulder (Lions), P Rossouw (Western Province); B van Straaten (Western Province), W Swanepoel (Lions); R Kempson (Western Province), N Drotske (Free State Cheetahs), C Visagie (Western Province), S Boome (Western Province), K Otto (Blue Bulls), C Krige (Western Province), G Teichmann (Natal Sharks, capt), J Erasmus (Lions). Replacements: A Venter (Free State Cheetahs) for Kempson, 41; O Le Roux (Natal Sharks) for Visagie, 41; G du Toit (Griquas) for van Straaten, 58; D von Hoesslin (Griquas) for Swanepoel, 58.

Referee: E Morrison (England).