A horrible sense of déjà vu reverberated around the Millennium Stadium, where the home side suffered a familiar fate at the hands of South Africa. Wales have enjoyed unbridled success recently but the long wait goes on for a result to offer hope that they can become genuine World Cup contenders.
The Dragons huffed and puffed, but even the presence of 11 British Lions could not prevent a 17th successive defeat to one of the Tri-Nations teams and, given the players involved, it is hard to see when that run will end.
To compound Welsh woes, Jonathan Davies could be ruled out for the Six Nations with a pectoral injury. The British Lion was one of four Welshmen injured in the first half alone as the reigning Six Nations champions failed once again to claim the southern hemisphere scalp they crave.
Davies' midfield partner Jamie Roberts is already out for the autumn, but the loss of such an in-form player is a major blow.
The Wales coach, Warren Gatland, said: "It's a huge blow to lose Jonathan. He was looking sharp and is a big part of our game right now. We're hoping the problem might settle down but if he needs an operation then he is looking at up to five months out, which takes him out of the Six Nations."
Five penalties by Leigh Halfpenny kept Wales in this game for an hour, but a try count of 3-0 tells its own story as Jean de Villiers, Bismarck du Plessis and Fourie du Preez showed why South Africa have only lost to one team all year – and that was New Zealand.
"It feels like we're taking one step forward and two steps back," said Gatland. "The southern hemisphere teams are used to playing at that tempo and speed and it takes time for our players to catch up. South Africa didn't make a lot of mistakes and the turnovers were the telling factor between the teams.
"There are some things for us to work on but there are a huge amount of positives for the players. This was a huge step-up in intensity from where they have come from."
The only thing more predictable than the outcome was the chorus of boos that greeted the referee Alain Rolland and it took just 20 minutes before he was reunited with Sam Warburton, the man he sent off in the 2011 World Cup semi-final, by which time Wales were already facing an enormous task.
It took them that long to come to terms with the physicality of the Springboks and it was while Scott Williams was receiving treatment that a ruthless South Africa showed the stark difference in the efficiency between the teams.
Bryan Habana seized the chance, beating Richard Hibbard and George North. Liam Williams slipped on the greasy turf and was floored by Du Plessis, leaving De Villiers to juggle possession before scoring.
Wales had to reshuffle their back line as James Hook and Ashley Beck replaced Williams and Jonathan Davies, forcing Halfpenny on to the wing, and matters worsened when Du Plessis drove over and Adam Jones trudged off.
The boot of Halfpenny and the fist of Bath's Francois Louw, binned for striking Richard Holland, kept Wales in the game.
Gethin Jenkins and Coenie Oosthuizen received yellow cards, from a collapsed scrum, but South Africa's kicking game finally told.
Rhys Priestland looked to have matters covered, only for the ball to bounce short and into the hands of Jaque Fourie, who simultaneously flicked his pass to Du Preez and the scrum-half was over for the decisive try.
Wales L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies (J Hook, 12), S Williams, L Williams (A Beck, 12); R Priestland, M Phillips (L Williams, 72); G Jenkins, R Hibbard (K Owens, 63), A Jones (S Andrews, 31, P James, h-t), B Davies, AW Jones (L Charteris, 72), D Lydiate (J Tipuric, 63), S Warburton (capt), T Faletau.
South Africa P Lambie; JP Pietersen, J Fourie, J De Villiers (capt), B Habana; M Steyn (W Le Roux, 18), F Du Preeze (R Pienaar, 77); T Mtawarira (G Steenkamp, 73), B Du Plessis (A Strauss, 66), F Malherbe (C Oosthuizen, 56), E Etzebeth (P Du Toit, 68), F Van Der Merwe, F Louw, W Alberts (S kolisi, 66), D Vermeulen.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).
Pens: Halfpenny 5
Tries: De Villiers, Du Plessis, Du Preez,
Cons: Lambie, Steyn 2
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