So Wales lost by a whisker, but in truth it was a long whisker, with the hosts playing a game of catch-up in the last 10 minutes here that was always going to be beyond them.
Nevertheless there was still so much for Mike Ruddock's men to take from this performance, perhaps most of all the knowledge that there is so much to improve upon. The line-out is an area of concern, as was the catalogue of missed tackles and cheap turnovers that ultimately cost Wales the scalp of the Tri-Nations champions.
I also believe that another huge factor in this defeat was the performance of Paddy O'Brien. Although he kept the game flowing, his weak refereeing once again highlighted the age-old problem of differences in interpretation between northern- and southern-hemisphere officials. Quite simply, over this side of the equator we like to contest the tackle area, on their side they don't. So when the two come together and the referee fails to make allowances for the difference in styles, then one side are always going to come off worst. And few could deny that here it was Wales.
It didn't help that O'Brien's erroneous decisions came at such crucial stages in the game, managing to draw the sting from Wales just when they looked to be at their most venomous. Two instances spring most to my mind. The first was when Gareth Thomas was called up for a block tackle that O'Brien signalled as obstructing a prospective tackler. This led to another Percy Montgomery three-pointer, and it was an ironic kick in the teeth for the Welsh as it was the Australians and New Zealanders who first invented the block tackle. It seems that in rugby if you can't beat 'em, don't join 'em - they'll only penalise you.
The most blatant error, however, was O'Brien's failure to send Joe van Niekerk to the sin-bin when the supremely athletic No 8 deliberately leapt on Dwayne Peel from an offside position when the try-line beckoned the little scrum-half. O'Brien could even have awarded a penalty try, and I truly believe that if he had, Wales might have been celebrating an improbable victory.
Alas, they will have to content themselves with running the Boks so close. But it must be a giant plus that the overriding emotion last night was one of disappointment in the manner in which they lost. They learned the hard way that a missed tackle here and a sloppy turnover there is the dividing line between triumph and disaster in the top echelons of world rugby.
Saying all that, there should still be a few of the Welsh boys bearing smiles. The Jones props, Adam and Duncan, performed admirably in shoring up a Welsh scrum that performed well enough, and Gavin Henson at last showed the full range of skills in a red shirt that we have always known he possesses. The team proved there is no shortage of creativity in their ranks, and if the little mistakes can be eradicated and the line-out improved, who knows how far Ruddock can take them?
After looking at the video, they will know how to play against South Africa next time, that's for sure, as will the other home countries, who should not have missed the glaring weakness in their system. They may boast titans like the imperious Victor Matfield but they are conspicuously one-dimensional, fanning their defence across the park and not committing more than two or three to rucks and mauls.
If Ireland and England are to aim for the guts of the Springbok defence then they could just blow it apart. The visitors escaped with their grand slam dream intact yesterday, but they may not be so lucky in Dublin and Twickenham.Reuse content