Warren Gatland's Grand Slam champions slipped to a 2-0 series defeat in Pretoria on Saturday but, after the embarrassment of the first Test, Wales gave a far better account of themselves. The tourists were in front as the game went into its final quarter.
Gatland saw the series as the first step towards transforming his men into a team who can regularly beat the southern hemisphere heavyweights. Wales will face South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, plus Canada, in the autumn and Gatland wants to draw inspiration from England's build-up to their 2003 World Cup triumph.
"The challenge facing us next is to beat one of the Tri-Nations teams in a home game," he said. "Then we must raise the bar and do it away. We're mindful that in 2003 that's what England did. They tried to play the southern hemisphere sides as often as they could. Winning at Twickenham gave them some confidence, which helped them succeed away from home before going on to lift the World Cup.
"If we have ambitions to do that and get better as a team, that's the sort of progression we need to take."
Wales entered the series against South Africa with the nominal advantage of both Tests being played under rules that are still in operation in the northern hemisphere. On the face of it, the Experimental Law Variations that have been used by the Springbok players in the Super 14 should suit Wales' running game. Gatland, however, is against changes that he claims are being driven by the need to revive flagging public interest in the sport south of the Equator.
"From a Six Nations perspective we feel there is nothing wrong with the game," he said. "It's growing in numbers, with record crowds year on year. It seems to be the southern hemisphere that are keen for the ELVs to go ahead and that's because of the declining popularity of the game there. This can be seen in reduced crowds and viewing figures. If the game is thriving in the northern hemisphere, why do you need to change the game?
"Under the current rules if you get a strong referee who runs the breakdown, well, you get a good game."
Shaun Edwards, Wales' defence coach, said Gatland's ambitious plans would require an enormous effort if they are to be realised – starting with hours of hard work in the gym. The Welsh pack outweighed South Africa on Saturday yet the Springboks looked bigger, leaner and more athletic.
"We've made a vast improvement over the last six months, any fair minded person would say that," Edwards said. "We've had one blip on that journey, which was the first Test against South Africa.
"We're the champions of the northern hemisphere but to take that next step and beat the Tri-Nations sides away will take a lot more work. We know a lot of that is in the physical department."
A high point in Saturday's defeat was Shane Williams' first-half try. In an audacious finish, the little Ospreys winger displayed the dazzling footwork that has become his trademark to evade five defenders and score his 43rd Test try. The 31-year-old has scored 12 tries in his last 10 Tests.
"I'm enjoying life and my rugby is going really well because of that. I don't take rugby too seriously," he said. "My family comes first. I think that is the difference. Since I've got a family and a little girl I now know how to prioritise things."
Williams' try helped Wales believe they could upset their hosts, after an ominous start in which Jean de Villiers and Ricky Januarie scored in six first-half minutes. The scrum-half, Gareth Cooper, and then Williams brought the game back to the boil and the fly-half, Stephen Jones, kicked a third penalty to put Wales 21-20 up but late tries from De Villiers and Bismarck du Plessis gave the scoreline its lopsided look.
South Africa: C Jantjes; T Chavhanga (both Western Province), A Jacobs (Sharks), J de Villiers (Western Province), B Habana (Blue Bulls); B James (Bath), E Januarie (Lions); T Mtawarira (Sharks), J Smit (Clermont Auvergne, capt), BJ Botha (Sharks), B Botha (Blue Bulls), V Matfield (Toulon), L Watson (Western Province), J Smith (Cheetahs), P Spies (Blue Bulls). Replacements: B du Plessis (Sharks) for Smit, 60; R Kankowski (Sharks) for Spies, 60; F Steyn (Sharks) for Jacobs, 60; G Steenkamp (Blue Bulls) for Mtawarira, 61; P Montgomery (Perpignan) for Chavhanga, 64; A Bekker (Western Province) for B Botha, 64; J Conradie (Western Province) for Januarie, 72.
Wales: J Hook (Ospreys); M Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin, J Roberts (both Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), G Cooper (Gloucester); G Jenkins (Blues), R Hibbard (Ospreys), R Thomas (Dragons), I Gough, A-W Jones, R Jones (capt), J Thomas (all Ospreys), G Delve (Gloucester). Replacements: D Jones (Scarlets) for Delve, 23; I Evans (Ospreys) for R Jones, 67; A Bishop (Ospreys) for Shanklin, 67; D Jones (Ospreys) for Thomas, 70; TR Thomas (Blues) for Hibbard, 72; W Fury (London Irish) for Cooper, 75; T James (Blues) for M Jones, 77.
Referee: L Bray (New Zealand).Reuse content