South Africa 38 Wales 16 match report: Wales hopes are crushed by rampant Springboks

The damage was done in the first half

South Africa laid waste to Welsh hopes of a first win over the Springboks in their own backyard with a devastating first-half performance at Kings Park.

Wales had travelled with an experienced squad – there were 10 British & Irish Lions in their starting XV – but the combination of a woeful display and a potent and dynamic performance from their hosts ensured this game was over as a contest shortly after the end of the first quarter.

There were five tries in all for the rampant Boks, arch-finisher Bryan Habana helped himself to a couple to take his Test tally to 55, while Duane Vermeulen, the superb Willie le Roux and debutant Cornal Hendricks also got over the line.

Fly-half Morne Steyn slotted six out of six – five conversions and a penalty – for a personal haul of 13 points.

Dan Biggar kicked two drop goals and a penalty for the visitors, but even Alex Cuthbert’s sensational finish late on provided scant consolation for Wales.

The build-up to this game had centred on South Africa’s inclusion of the likes of the 37-year-old lock Victor Matfield, who joined John Smit as his country’s most-capped player with 111, his second-row partner Bakkies Botha and scrum-half Fourie de Preez.

But instead it was Wales who looked short of legs, struggling to cope with the ferocious tempo and intensity of their hosts.

It may well be viewed as post-Lions fatigue but it makes for three worrying away outings on the bounce for Warren Gatland and company, following on from difficult Six Nations defeats in Dublin and at Twickenham. You doubt things will get much better next week in Nelspruit on this showing.

For all that, the visitors should have had a try inside a minute, had Liam Williams, the full-back,  completed a simple two-on-one and put Cuthbert in at the corner. Biggar did at least knock over a third-minute drop goal, but that was when the trouble started.

Le Roux, a constant menace, broke through in the left channel and his intelligent chip allowed Habana to beat Cuthbert for the opening try.

Wales were soon down a man. Jamie Roberts seeing yellow after taking Le Roux out as he fielded a high ball from Biggar. His side would concede 14 points in his 10‑minute absence.

First, Vermeulen bashed his way through Gethin Jenkins and Mike Phillips to dot down, then, after Biggar’s second drop goal, Le Roux raced around Aaron Shingler to send Habana sprinting in at the corner.

Wales looked set to hit back when Cuthbert set off on an enterprising counter and created a huge overlap. But, so sluggish was the passing along the line, that the few Springbok defenders easily snuffed out the opportunity.

Le Roux showed how it should be done when he chipped over the onrushing Welsh defence and took advantage of a fortuitous bounce to see off the attentions of George North and score.

A Biggar penalty made it 28-9 at the break, but the tourists had already suffered the blow of having to withdraw Adam Jones, on his 100th Test appearance, with the inexperienced Samson Lee on at tight-head prop in his place.

Steyn’s penalty further extended the hosts’ advantage and the fifth try came a dozen minutes into the second half and Le Roux was again at the heart of it, the Cheetahs’ man, spotting Ken Owens in the defensive line, arced around the hooker and fed former Sevens star Hendricks for a first international try.

With the game long gone, Gatland threw on scrum-half Gareth Davies and full-back Matthew Morgan for their  debuts.

Davies, prolific for his regional side the Scarlets, thought he had marked his bow but Biggar’s final pass to him was forward, before Cuthbert’s mazy 80-metre finish provided Wales with the tiniest crumb of comfort.

A long week lies ahead for the tourists.