If you are going to get taught a lesson in rugby it might as well be from the world champions. I thought South Africa won the recent World Cup in second gear but instead of lacking in match fitness after celebrating their title for the last few weeks they came to Cardiff looking very relaxed and they showed Wales what they can do.
Wales will be disappointed. They were tactically poor and above all else they struggled to get over the gain line, which was the same problem they had throughout the World Cup. It is difficult to do but the Springboks showed them how. They cut through Wales easily and scored tries against a disrupted defence as a result. South Africa were direct, particularly in the first half, and they realised the importance of the gain line and they targeted it. Wales struggled to cope.
I've said it before with Wales, that they try to play too much football behind the gain line. There are too many fancy moves which get them nowhere. Either they need to get a forward out in the backs or they need to get Gavin Henson carrying over the gain line from centre. Gavin played OK yesterday, he had a few nice touches, but Wales were naïve. There were also a couple of defensive mistakes which let South Africa in. Wales defended too tight around the ruck area so they were caught when the ball then went wide.
There was a weird feeling around the whole game. Both the coaches were supposed to be at their last Test match but there is an uncertainty over whether that is really the case. Nigel Davies will not have enjoyed his experience in charge of the Wales team, on the end of such a heavy defeat, but he could yet be kept on as an assistant when Warren Gatland takes over as head coach. And who knows, if the political situation changes in South African rugby, they may strike an agreement for Jake White to continue.
Far from being off the pace, John Smit and his boys showed what it meant to them to play their first game as world champions, and for that reason alone they wanted to win well. I am not sure anyone else knew what we were all doing here, although there was a financial motive for both unions, but Smit was awesome at hooker, an outstanding man of the match. He helped create a couple of tries with off-the-ball running and his seven-man pack still managed to cause havoc at an attacking Welsh scrum when the replacement lock Albert van den Berg was in the sin bin.
Wales had an opportunity to put their World Cup disaster behind them but it passed them by. This was also a chance, don't forget, to get one step ahead of the rivals they will meet in the New Year in the Six Nations Championship.
To me, one of the fascinating questions was who would step forward to show leadership. I think the direction of play was poor in the World Cup, in the win against Canada and in the calamitous defeat by Fiji, so there was ground to make up there. Gareth Thomas was out, and it is doubted whether he will play for Wales again; Martyn Williams has retired and Stephen Jones pulled out injured.
Davies picked a captain at prop, in Gethin Jenkins, and it was up to Dwayne Peel and James Hook to give direction at half-back. Yesterday showed there is still a lot to do.
It is up to Gatland to do it and he will have seen a lot to set him thinking. I know he has always concentrated closely on three aspects: scrum, line-out and defence. For the last few matches Wales have tailored their defence to the opposition. Gatland will surely do this differently. He was a great fan of the press defence while he was at Wasps and he played it all the time, regardless of the opposition. I've no doubt that defence is one of the first things he will look at with Wales and it will be interesting who, if anyone, he brings in as a specialist to help him.
Gatland's Wasps were always direct and powerful. They are two qualities, I'm afraid to say, that Wales lack right now.Reuse content