After all the smiles in the Six Nations, a kick in the teeth on the high veldt. It was reality time for Wales yesterday as South Africa flexed their muscles as world champions.
Very little went right for the Welsh and they certainly got no favours from the English referee, Dave Pearson. I don't know what kind of ruler he was using to measure some of the forward passes he gave against Wales. However, I'm afraid to say, Wales made far more mistakes than he did.
Handling errors, turnovers and penalties cost them the match before they hit their stride, and when they did hit it, too often that stride was interrupted by their own gaffes. That was before the ruthlessly efficient Springbok defence got to them.
Had this match been played over here I am sure it would have been a lot closer, but in South Africa you are always going to be up against it. Butch James (right) dictated everything and his kicking ensured that Wales paid for conceding so many penalties.
The part of the game in which Wales were completely outgunned was the contact area. The way South Africa swarmed into the breakdown was unanswerable. Their flankers, Juan Smith and Luke Watson, were ace workers and the way their team-mates offloaded the ball before Wales could do any smothering work was another big factor in the strength of the home side's attacking.
The one area from which Wales could take any satisfaction was the scrum, which stood up very well. At least that is something on which to build for the second Test, in Pretoria next week.
After his storming start as Wales coach, Warren Gatland could have come to earth with a thump. But he said beforehand that Wales would not know their true worth until they met southern-hemisphere opposition. Now they know, and at least they will be aware of what is required to compete.
The first lesson will be to cut down on the mistakes. There were more unforced errors in this game than in five Six Nations matches.
Steven Jones had a solid game at No 10 and made a few breaks and there were times when Wales moved the ball promisingly, but they lost possession so often in the tackle.
The physicality of it all will have been another hard lesson. Better control over the ball and more determination in the contact area must be achieved next week. The line-out also needs attention in the next seven days. Having a throw stolen in the first half led directly to Conrad Jantjes' opening try.
Shane Williams went looking for work after that and he spurred a great attack that resulted in Sonny Parker powering through to set up Jamie Roberts for his first international try. That put the score at a bearable 19-10, but then Ryan Jones gave a penalty away to let South Africa stick another three points on the scoreboard before the break. That is the sort of slip-up you cannot afford against the world champions.
In the second half we saw the worth of the centre Jean de Villiers, and it didn't help Wales when South Africa brought players of the calibre of Victor Matfield and Percy Montgomery off the bench. At least we were cheered up by the sight of the spirited Williams, who scored a very good try and then helped to stop Bryan Habana scoring.
It is something, I suppose, if you can come out of a match against the Springboks without Habana having scored. There are not many straws for Wales to clutch at but we will see what they are made of when they resume the battle in Pretoria.Reuse content