Inability to box clever must worry South Africa

Click to follow
The Independent Online

On Remembrance weekend, not even a performance of appropriate courage and commitment by Wales made this a game to remember for very long.

South Africa's superiority was best expressed by the 20-3 lead they carved out with less than half an hour left. But the world champions' continuing failings, demonstrated throughout the Tri-Nations this year, were emphasised by the way they then allowed Wales back into the match through their own indiscipline.

Just when you expected a ruthless demonstration of the art of putting away inferior opponents, the Springboks lost their way. They committed a stream of offences at the breakdown to test the patience of the referee, Alain Rolland. The South Africans' panic was clear as a limited Welsh side suddenly revived, fuelled by the visitors' technical indiscretions.

By the time the Wales substitute James Hook, who had replaced the ineffective Stephen Jones after 52 minutes, had banged over his fourth penalty goal in 16 minutes, 74,000 voices were roaring his team on towards what would have been the unlikeliest of victories.

In truth, it was only Wales's lack of vision, composure and tactical awareness at key moments which saved the Springboks. The home side's coach, Warren Gatland, later bemoaned his side's inability to take any of several try-scoring opportunities which could have made the difference.

Gatland knows that Tests are won by the side that takes its chances. Initially, South Africa did that under the closed roof of the Millennium Stadium, especially when the centre Jean de Villiers pocketed Hook's predictable pass down the Welsh back line and streaked almost 50 metres to score, after 52 minutes. The excellent Ruan Pienaar, who was a startling success at fly-half, added the points and with the likes of the flanker Juan Smith dominating up front, at 20-3 South Africa seemed home and dry.

Alas the centre Jaque Fourie, who had replaced Bryan Habana after 60 minutes, was immediately sent back to the bench for a yellow-card offence, having dived over the top at a ruck to steal Welsh ball. Such a stupid act by an international player defied belief and the Springboks' lack of composure in the final half-hour will have worried their coach, Peter de Villiers.

It gave Wales hope and Hook's four goals kept them in the match. Even before half-time, though, Wales had their chances. The No 8 Andy Powell, surely the man of the match on his Test debut, lmade an immediate claim for a Lions tour place. His power, ball control, indefatigable work rate and defence were all of the highest order.

After one typical Powell burst in the 20th minute, which was carried on by lock Alun-Wyn Jones, the captain, Ryan Jones, was only denied a try by Fourie du Preez's excellent cover tackle as the tourists' defence scrambled.

The Springboks had built their early ascendancy by pragmatic means. They played for territory, kicking the ball deep into the Welsh half and inviting the full-back Lee Byrne, who was another to make a strong impression in front of the watching Lions scouts, to run or kick it back.

The mistakes of the much less pragmatic second period meant the match remained fast and furious and it was exciting for the crowd as Wales continued to compete vigorously in all phases. But in terms of technical excellence it all left a great deal to be desired and South Africa's continuing struggle to perform consistently with the authority to be expected of world champions remains a mystery.

Comments