At the Wales team hotel yesterday morning the fury of Saturday evening had been replaced by all the perspective a bad night's sleep of tossing and turning usually brings. The Dragons were still snorting at having thrown away the chance of beating the world champions but at least they could now recognise that "should have won" is a small mental fix away from "did win".
"We are already there," said the captain, Ryan Jones, when asked how close Wales were to toppling the Southern Hemisphere giants. "I think we just have to take one scalp and that will be a watershed. Yesterday we finished as the bigger, stronger and fitter team. The game was in our hands. I just wish there was another five minutes. We've the skill to beat anyone in the world. We just need that little bit of belief."
The presence of Andy Powell may prove handy in this regard. The No 8 produced a startling debut at the grand old age of 27 and was clearly still high on the bitter-sweet experience almost 24 hours later. "We're not far off clicking," he said echoing the thoughts of Jones. Except Powell was prepared to take it that step further. "I really think we can beat New Zealand."
A brave statement, but then you would expect nothing else from a man who had just stood up to one of the most feared backrows on Planet Rugby and emerged with the man-of-the-match champagne. Together with the fellow new boy Leigh Halfpenny (who really is a "boy" at 19), Powell is one of the principal factors why the Six Nations champions will go forward in this Autumn Series with such a spring in their sidestep.
This lunchtime Warren Gatland will name his XV to face Canada on Friday night and one of the most interesting aspects in a team that could see "at least 10 changes" will be whether he dares to drop the late-bloomer making up for lost time. "I just want to get as many caps as possible," said Powell. "I want to play each and every game."
Gatland will be tempted to keep him back. Despite being so well-travelled – he is on his fifth professional club – Powell is still raw and as the Kiwi pointed out "has work to do in certain areas". But he also possesses that gift of being able to find space and sprint into it and that could be decisive, if not against the All Blacks then certainly against the Wallabies at the end of the month.
It was one Powell foray in the 20th minute which gave Wales the impetus they had lacked in falling into a quick 10-0 deficit and in tandem with his fellow loose forwards they completely bossed a second-half during which South Africa descended into a scrambling, street-smart rabble, as they constantly killed the ball and capitalised on the inexplicable patience of the referee, Alain Rolland. Nevertheless, Wales had no excuses; just one almighty shortfall.
With backs of the quality of Shane Williams, Lee Byrne – who has Lions full-back tattooed all over him – and the latest discovery, Halfpenny, Wales should never lack a cutting edge. But they did. This was the first time in 16 internationals they failed to score a try; yet the stats scream they should have posted a couple.
They broke the line on any number of occasions but for some reason could not muster the clinicalness to convert. Indeed, the only pass that did unleash a flying three-quarter to the whitewash was that from James Hook to Jean de Villiers, a minute after coming on. There and then Hook had let them off the hook. At 20-3 down Wales were up against it, no matter how inspired the fightback. Gatland was certainly not about to praise his plucky losers. Did Sir Alex Ferguson loan out his hairdryer on Saturday? "That was the angriest I have ever seen Warren," confessed the flanker Martyn Williams. "He was very animated."
Last night on Welsh television Gatland explained why. "I think we surprised a few of them with our reaction," he said. "Maybe in the past they've had coaches coming in when they've lost narrowly to big sides and congratulated them and told them they were proud of the way they battled. Our expectations are bigger than that. I'm pleased with how the boys have responded."
Wales: Penalties Jones, Halfpenny, Hook 3. South Africa: Tries Jacobs, De Villiers; Conversions Pienaar 2; Penalties Pienaar 2.
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 (Irl).Reuse content