Sweeney rescues Popham but cannot save Wales Wales

South Africa 53 Wales 18
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The Independent Online

Ceri Sweeney insists he is no hero after Wales' defeat by South Africa almost ended in tragedy.

The Wales outside-half ensured his team-mate Alix Popham's life was in no danger - his quick-thinking prevented the unconscious No 8 from swallowing his tongue.

The Leeds Tykes forward had collided with opposite number Jacques Cronje in Wales' 53-18 defeat at Pretoria.

Popham was last night given the all clear to travel home with the Wales squad after being kept in hospital with concussion. But he has Sweeney to thank for rushing to his rescue while he lay on the ground.

"We're all relieved that Alix is well. He was in a bad way but Ceri reacted first," said the Wales captain Colin Charvis.

"Thankfully it was only concussion. It really shook us up."

But Sweeney, Nicky Robinson's first-half replacement, played down his role in the anxious eight-minute delay to the game. "I saw Pops lying on the ground and he wasn't moving, so I put my fingers in his mouth to check he wasn't swallowing his tongue," said the 24-year-old.

"He hadn't so I rolled him into the recovery position. I'm thankful that he's OK." The incident cast a darker shadow over a painful day for a second-string Wales side who will want to forget the game that followed an historic meeting with Nelson Mandela before kick-off.

Already depleted, Wales lost Brent Cockbain and Michael Owen in the week and saw outside-half Robinson and lock Deiniol Jones limp off early in the game.

By the time Popham was stretchered off, 21-year-old hooker Huw Bennett was used as a makeshift No 8.

But by then the Springboks, buoyed by their victories over Ireland, had the game won and they punished Wales for poor tackling. Brent Russell scored two of their seven tries and Percy Montgomery booted 18 points for the Boks.

Dwayne Peel and Shane Williams scored for late tries but it was little consolation Wales.

"We wanted to try new things on this tour but our game plan went out of the window with the injuries," said Wales coach Mike Ruddock.

"We're disappointed but it's been a long season and we will come back, especially when we have a few more players back."

South Africa: Tries - B Russell (2), J Smit, B Paulse, W Julies, B Conradie, S Burger.

Conversions P Montgomery (6). Penalties P Montgomery (2) Wales: Tries D Peel, S Williams. Conversions G Henson. Penalties G Henson (2).

South Africa: P Montgomery (Dragons); B

Paulse (Stormers), M Joubert, (Stormers)W Julies (Unattached), B Russell (Sharks); J van der Westhuizen (NEC,Japan), F Du Preez (Blue Bulls); O Du Randt,(Cats) J Smit (capt) (Sharks), F Rautenbach (Cats)Q Davids (Stormers), V Matfield (Blue Bulls) S Burger, (Stormers) J Cronje, P Wannenburg( both Blue Bulls) Replacements: E Andrews (Stormers)

for Rautenbach75; G Cronje (Blue Bulls) for Davids 55; G Britz (Cats) for Wanneburg 55;

B Conradie (Stormers) for Du Preez 55; H Shimange (Cats) for Matfield 62; G du Toit (Stormers) for Van der Westhuizen 70

Wales:G Henson(Ospreys); H Luscombe(Dragons) S Parker (Ospreys), T Shanklin(Blues) S Williams (Ospreys) N Robinson(Ospreys) D Peel (Scarlets); G Jenkins(Blues) M Davies (unattached), A Jones (Ospreys) Deiniol Jones (unattached) G Llewellyn (Unattached), Dafydd Jones (Scarletts), A Popham (Leeds)C Charvis (capt)(Newcastle). Replacements: J Thomas (Ospreys) for Dieniol Jones 16; C Sweeney (Dragons) for Robinson 35; H Bennett (Ospreys) for Popham 51; Duncan Jones (Ospreys) for Jenkins 53; D Morris(Leicester) for A Jones 53-74

Referee: S Walsh (NZ) Attendance: 43,920.