Gatland fury as Wales let Springboks off the hook

Wales 15 South Africa 20
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Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be afforded to Wales is that they were fully justified to leave here yesterday evening feeling absolutely pig-sick they did not have the scalp of the world champions to take back to the team hotel. They had enough possession to win, enough territory to win, made enough chances to win and probably deserved to win. Cruel game, this giant-killing. They don't always agree to roll over.

The Springboks certainly did not, despite wobbling on their feet at the end of a thrilling second half in which they barely took a forward step. As it was, the trot taken by Jean de Villiers under the posts when gifted a try in the 52nd minute was all-important. If James Hook had not thrown such a telegraphed pass with his very first touch of the ball; if, if, if. That damned word stretched its way all down Westgate Street as the capital reflected on a rip-roarer of a Test that was in the balance until the last second. Full credit to Wales, they produced a courageous fightback after Hook's generosity, recovering from 20-3 down with 28 minutes to go to inch to within a score. Yet all they had in their armoury were penalties. There were no tries. The team who had waltzed through the Six Nations defences with only the whitewash in their eyes kept encountering a wall of sheer green this time.

Their inability to convert their superiority left Warren Gatland seething. No plucky losers for this man. "I'm furious," the coach said. "If you want to nail these big teams then you've got to nail the big moments.

"I've just had a crack at the players. This was a chance to beat the world champions. We let ourselves down."

Later, when the steam had subsided from ears, Gatland admitted he was "proud of a lot of our performance". That was good to hear, as it was not all Welsh despondency. Apart from an immense forward effort in which only the line-out faltered, there were some terrific individual displays. Lee Byrne cemented his reputation as the Lions full-back in waiting, but it was the two debutants, teenager Leigh Halfpenny and grizzled wannabe Andy Powell, who really threatened to lift the roof.

Halfpenny overshadowed the two wonder wings, Bryan Habana and Shane Williams, while Powell highlighted what a destructive ball-carrierhe can be. Gatland tipped a little ice on all the hype afterwards, saying the Blues No 8 still had work to do in the ruck department, and indeed the man- of-the-match award was a bit over the top. That should have gone to anyone of the visiting loose forwards, whose bullocking and intelligent runs were so influential in opening up what was to be the decisive lead.

That definitely applied in the sixth minute, when Adrian Jacobs crashed over. Schalk Burger played a part in the overwhelming drive, as did the captain, John Smit. The match did not require a monumental defensive efforton Wales's part, as South Africa did not gain enough ball for that. They simply converted into points the possession they did get their scavenging hands on. Granted, the excellent Ruan Pienaar at fly-half should have scored just after the half-hour mark, but they were not due any more than their 13-3 advantage at the break.

The three points came courtesy of Halfpenny, who slotted a penalty over as if he had been doing it all his life and came agonisingly close to converting from the halfway line.For a moment, it seemed written that Master Halfpenny would be hailed as the match-winner when he burst into the 22. But JP Pietersen was there to hurl him down, and two minutes later Hook suffered his calamity. It looked grim until Wales began to fight back. "It was frustrating," admitted the flanker Juan Smith. "We were waiting for the game to finish with 20 minutes to go." Hook penalty followed Hook penalty, and when Jaque Fourie was sin-binned in the 62nd minute the momentum appeared irresistible. Yet Wales fell short. It means they have still only beaten South Africa once in 102 years.

Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Blues), T Shanklin (Blues), J Roberts (Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), G Cooper (Gloucester); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), A Wyn Jones (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), M Williams (Blues), A Powell (Blues). Replacements: J Hook (Ospreys) for S Jones, 51; D Peel (Sale) for Cooper, 51; I Gough (Ospreys) for Evans, 66.

South Africa: C Jantjes (Stormers); J P Pietersen (Sharks), A Jacobs (Sharks), J de Villiers (Stormers), B Habana (Bulls); R Pienaar (Sharks), F du Preez (Bulls); T Mtawarira (Sharks), B du Plessis (Sharks), J Smit (Sharks, capt), B Botha (Bulls), V Matfield (Bulls), S Burger (Stormers), J Smith (Cheetahs), P Spies (Bulls). Replacements: A Bekker(Stormers) for Botha, 41; R Kanjowski (Sharks) for Spies, 50; F Steyn (Sharks) for Jacobs, 60; J Fourie (Lions) for de Villiers, 61; R Januarie (Stormers) for Preez, 61; B Mujati (Stormers) for Smith, 68; G Steenkamp (Bulls) for Mtawarira, 76.

Referee: A Rolland (Ire).