Du Preez's cool head keeps the dream alive

The Grand Slam that South Africa covet after a 40-year gap in the northern hemisphere was within an ace of being dashed from their grasp at Cardiff.

The Springbok coach, Jake White, had said it would be a disaster if his team lost to Wales. They very nearly did so, hanging on with wobbly legs and a trembling heart, like a boxer about to be counted out in the last round. Sure, the Boks held a lead for much of this fluctuating encounter at the magnificent Millennium Stadium, but the composure they demonstrated to land the Tri-Nations title in the southern hemisphere earlier this year, was notably absent at Cardiff.

Panic surged into their ranks whenever Wales applied consistent pressure, and their own unforced errors handed Wales easy points from the boot of Stephen Jones. Many of those kicks came when Wales were gasping to hang on earlier in the game. They revived the Welsh, like a blast of oxygen to the croaking patient.

Some surprise then, that the ailing Welsh twice came so vividly to life when the match seemed palpably beyond them. The first occasion was early in the second half, when the loss of Schalk Burger through a yellow card exposed South Africa's shakiness. The second was near the end when the Springboks were almost caught.

This was far from a convincing performance by White's men. They had the line-out control they sought, principally through the leaping of Victor Matfield and Joe van Niekerk. And early on, they showed powerful surges in the scrums.

But there were too many nerves jangling around the Springbok side for White's comfort. They looked rusty, as befits a side who have not played together since August. And there was a lack of calm and composure when Wales mounted their pressure.

What South Africa did have, was the blistering pace of their No 8 Van Niekerk, who finished off a superb first-half movement for a try, and generally added speed to everything that his side tried to do. They were grateful for Percy Montgomery's kicking, too.

Similarly in an attacking sense, they had the perceptive skills of Jaco van der Westhuyzen who showed again that he has the ability to become a fine fly-half. The former Leicester player is no flashy performer, but his eye for a gap and his ability to read a game were essential requirements for his team yesterday.

But it was Van der Westhuyzen's half-back partner, Fourie du Preez, who most earned his corn. Du Preez is a calm, probing scrum-half. He lacks the pace to make the kind of searing breaks his predecessor Joost van der Westhuizen once used to destroy defences. But on a dank, damp day in Cardiff, Du Preez was just what South Africa needed. He kept calm, supplied a steady service, kicked astutely to keep his forwards advancing and was a vital cog in the South African machine. Just as important, his defensive reading of the game enabled him to make some critical tackles and alleviate positions of danger.

Du Preez rarely says a lot, least of all about himself. But his rugby did the talking for him at Cardiff, and his side scraped through to fight another day thanks in part to his many valuable contributions.

But if the Springboks are to get to the end of this tour with their hands around the mythical Grand Slam, then they are going to have to show a whole lot more presence and composure. The pressure Wales mounted was, in the main, sporadic, yet alarm bells were going off throughout the Bok side.

They have the pack, the pace and the power to beat the sides in this part of the world. And they will be mighty glad this first examination is over, for if truth be told, they only scraped through it. They must believe better days lie ahead.

world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
Review: Wembley Stadium ***
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice