South Africa 43 Wales 17: Gatland has 'no excuses' for defeat

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The Independent Online

The much heralded meeting of the world champions and the Grand Slam winners proved no contest as Wales were swept aside here in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Their demise, in the face of superior southern hemisphere physicality, followed a well-trodden path as the Six Nations' so-called finest were trampled by a new-look South Africa team under an equally new coach. Frankly, Peter de Villiers' side did not have much to beat. Wales were abject and the Grand Slam glory of March seemed as far away as Bloemfontein is from Bridgend.

Wales' coach, the New Zealander Warren Gatland, said: "We don't have any excuses for our performance – we were well beaten by a better side. We were not good enough today. The players and management were disappointed, and quite frankly pretty embarrassed by that performance. We were pretty proud about what we had achieved over the last six months, but came here today and got humiliated.

"Our handling was poor, and probably our discipline, in terms of the number of penalties we gave away. It didn't help us to stay in the game, allowing South Africa to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

"I was pleased with the way we scrummaged. At times, when we kept the ball and kept shape, we looked pretty good and put them under pressure. That is what we are going to do a lot more of next week. We spoke about coming here and competing physically with these guys and we didn't do it today. I'm sure that these players will go away and see that as a big challenge to improve on next week."

Wales never established a forward base off which to play. They passed the ball deep behind the gain line, to players standing still. Their lobbed mispasses simply invited an aggressive rush defence to hammer the recipient. The Welsh also missed tackles.

Excelling in their own tournament offers the Six Nations champions only the bragging rights of big fish in a goldfish bowl. Take them out of the little kingdom in which they rule and they are exposed.

The Springboks' physical power in the tackle, strength in the rucks and mauls and ability to exert pressure gave them an overwhelming advantage. The Welsh looked lightweight by comparison and their handling was atrocious, especially in the first half. They made errors all over the field and were prone to alarming lapses in concentration in defence.

South Africa started off rustily and were hardly fearsome, but as they got into the game they showed glimpses of their capabilities. These could, in time, be considerable.

De Villiers wants his side to expand their game, to start tapping the vast potential which they only scratched during their march to World Cup success last October. There were clear signs here that they can do so. South Africa's strength in depth is to be envied by every country in the world, New Zealand included.

Wales were without a number of key men, especially at scrum-half, and they never looked like making up for it. Gareth Cooper was too slow at the base of the scrum and his tendency to run sideways before unloading was suicidal. In fairness to the Gloucester No 9, his forwards were always second best.

Wales' indiscipline at the breakdown hampered them still further. They were constantly penalised, allowing the Springbok fly-half, Butch James, to kick five penalty goals, four of them in the opening 23 minutes. That gave the Springboks a 12-3 lead and they were good enough to build on it, particularly after half-time.

South Africa needed half an hour to throw off the initial cobwebs but then, sensing the vulnerability of their opponents, they struck. Later on, bringing on a pair of World Cup winners, the lock Victor Matfield and full-back Percy Montgomery, when they were in total charge was a demonstration of their strength.

The Wales captain, the No 8 Ryan Jones, did his best to steady the ship and give his side some self-belief. But not even Jones at his best – and he was never that here – could have made much difference.

The Springboks scored four tries in 42 minutes and Wales were left to reflect on their own inadequacies. To make matters worse, they discovered after the game that a calf strain has ended the hooker Matthew Rees's tour. Rhys Thomas of the Cardiff Blues will join the party today.

South Africa: C Jantjes (Western Province); T Chavhanga (Western Province), A Jacobs (Sharks), J de Villiers (Western Province), B Habana (Blue Bulls); B James (Bath), B Conradie (Western Province); G Steenkamp (Blue Bulls), J Smit (Clermont Auvergne, capt), B Mujati (Western Province), A Bekker (Western Province), B Botha (Blue Bulls), L Watson (Western Province), J Smith (Cheetahs), P Spies (Blue Bulls). Replacements: CJ van der Linde (Cheetahs) for Steenkamp, 24-32 & for Mujati, 45; P Grant (Western Province) for Jacobs, 32-36 & for James, 72; V Matfield (Toulon) for Bekker, 45; R Pienaar (Sharks) for Conradie, 57; B du Plessis (Sharks) for Smit, 57; D Rossouw (Blue Bulls) for Botha, 58-64; P Montgomery (Perpignan) for Jacobs, 61.

Wales: J Roberts (Cardiff Blues); M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), S Parker (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), G Cooper (Gloucester); A Jones (Ospreys), M Rees (Llanelli Scarlets), G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), I Gough (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), Dafydd Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), R Jones (capt, Ospreys). Replacements: M Stoddart (Llanelli Scarlets) for Roberts, 54; J Hook (Ospreys) for S Jones, 54; R Hibbard (Ospreys) for Rees, 54; Duncan Jones (Ospreys) for A Jones, 54; G Delve (Gloucester) for Dafydd Jones, 57; W Fury (London Irish) for Cooper, 62; I Evans (Ospreys) for Gough, 67.

Referee: D Pearson (England).