North shines but rare win goes west

Wales 25 South Africa 29: Springbok power proves too much for Wales yet again despite two tries from a teenage sensation
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The Independent Online

A dream debut for George North, but yet another dose of reality for Wales. While the 18-year-old's two-try performance came straight out of Boy's Own, his country's defeat was the encapsulation of what is becoming a tired, tatty old story.

The Welsh probably should have recorded a second win over the Springboks in 104 years and their fourth against Tri-Nations teams in 42 attempts in the professional era. They "won" the first half 17-9 and laid siege to the visitors' line in a torrid climax. But it was not enough; it never seems to be.

"Same old, same old," said their coach, Warren Gatland. "I was proud of the performance, proud of the effort,but we came up short once again. Of course I'm worried about whether we'll ever get over the line. I kicked over a few tables in the changing room, that's how disappointed I was."

At least there was North to console the distraught. At 6ft 4in and 17stthe immense wing has caused a stir in regional rugby. But here theyoung Scarlet made the entire rugby world shudder.

"He was OK, wasn't he?" said Gatland, with a smirk. "He got us out of trouble a few times in what was a great debut for a teenager. Hopefully, we've found someone a bit special."

It took the English-born Welsh-speaker just five minutes to dive over, although there was more than a suspicion of obstruction by the centreTom Shanklin on Jean de Villiers. That was not about to halt the euphoria, though, and when James Hook was put in by Shane Williams after a fine move the win this team have craved was surely on. Despite the loss of the prop Gethin Jenkins and back-rower Dan Lydiate before the start, the forwards built on their dominant showing against Australia, while the back line were vastly improved. Conversely, the world champions were shoddy in the first half and were lucky to go in just 17-9 down. Yet they had come back from a 16-3 deficit here in June and all too soon yesterday they were back bossing the Welshmen with a typically unsubtle riposte. They overpowered their rivals, who suddenly seemed stretched. The flanker Willem Alberts scored his debut try even quicker than North, having been on the pitch for three minutes, and two minutes later Victor Matfield, the lock, captain and record cap holder, crashed over to gain the lead.

The Welsh camp were angry with the Kiwi referee, Steve Walsh, for not penalising Bryan Habana in the turnover that led to that crucial score, but whatever, in the space of five minutes South Africa had assembled 17 unanswered points and flipped the scoreboard to 26-20.

It was ominous for Wales, but to their credit they regrouped, with their startling teenager to the fore. North was so much more than an opportunistic try-scorer, producing a complete display. He was on hand in the corner to pick up and tap down Stephen Jones's cross-kick and with more than a quarter of the match to go there was a point in it.

A Morne Steyn penalty gave South Africa a cushion for a gripping finale. Wales had their opportunities, not least when Shanklin chose to kick ahead with an overlap outside. Frustration filled the capital.

Wales L Byrne (Ospreys); G North (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), J Hook, S Williams (both Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips; P James (both Ospreys), M Rees(Scarlets, capt), A Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Blues), A W Jones (Ospreys), A Powell (Wasps), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Blues). Replacements A Bishop (Ospreys) for Shanklin, 38-40; C Czekaj (Blues) for S Williams, 43; R Jones (Ospreys) for Powell, 60; R Rees (Blues) for Phillips, 70, H Bennett (Ospreys) for M Rees, 72; J Yapp (Blues) for James, 72; D Jones (Blues) for A W Jones, 74.

South Africa G Aplon (W Province); B Basson (Bulls), F Steyn (Racing Métro), J de Villiers, B Habana (both W Province); M Steyn (Bulls), R Pienaar (Ulster); T Mtawarira,B du Plessis (both Sharks), J du Plessis (Cheetahs), B Botha, V Matfield (capt), D Stegmann (all Bulls), P Spies (Bulls), J Smith (Cheetahs). Replacements W Alberts (Sharks) for Stegmann, 47; F van der Merwe (Bulls) for Botha, 60; F Hougaard (Bulls) for Pienaar, 60; P Lambie (Sharks) for M Steyn, 64; Z Kirchner (Bulls) for Habana, 74; C Ralepelle (Bulls) for B du Plessis, 74; CJ van der Linde (Cheetahs) for J du Plessis, 76.

Referee S Walsh (New Zealand).