Wales 16 South Africa 33: Habana revels in the freedom of Cardiff to sink Wales

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The Independent Online

The powers that be at the Welsh national stadium have come up with the bright idea of seeing out the current year and ushering in 2006 by staging an event called Heaven and Hell on New Year's Eve. "The main bowl will be transformed into the 'Hell' area, littered with disconcertingly lifelike props," an item in Saturday's match programme advised. As if poor Mike Ruddock has not suffered enough from the devilish likes of Carl Hayman and Os du Randt of late.

The dress code is "halos and horns" and the coach of the Welsh national team could be forgiven for being stuck on the horn of a dilemma pondering his choice of headgear for the occasion. Back in the spring Ruddock was seemingly bred in heaven as his fire-breathing red dragons scorched a divine try-scoring trail across the Six Nations. At times in more recent weeks it has appeared that Beelzebub has had a devil personally put aside for him as his charges have spluttered along in their autumn series.

At least on Saturday night there was a little more huffing and puffing, with one glorious score by Ceri Sweeney and the possibility of another by Shane Williams, had Percy Montgomery not completed his Old Nick impression with a high tackle that, added to an earlier yellow for holding back Williams without the ball, stacked up to a red card. Nevertheless, having seen his team slip from within two points of the Springboks a year ago to a 17-point deficit on this occasion, Ruddock was still inclined to cry rather than laugh.

"We put South Africa under pressure at times but we weren't able to sustain it," he lamented. "That was the major disappointment. We're also making far too many errors. I am concerned. At the moment we're hurting because we haven't been good enough, but we believe we can still challenge a very good Australian side next week."

Much of the damage was self-inflicted, Bryan Habana being granted the freedom of the left wing for two tries that took his tally to 15 in 14 internationals and Sonny Parker failing to ground a grubber kick that allowed Conrad Jantjes to pounce in the opposite corner. The odds were always against a Wales team with just five of the XV who won the Grand Slam. At least the events of the past three weekends have brought some reality to the Principality. Nobody remains under the illusion that Ruddock could walk on the Taff. What he needs is someone with the power to heal the casualties.

On Saturday Ryan Jones was ruled out for the Six Nations, although another of the wounded Welsh Lions was fit enough to get through a book-signing session at Waterstone's. The question is: will Gavin Henson be polishing his old halo for New Year's Eve and beyond?

Wales: Try Sweeney; Conversion S Jones; Penalties S Jones 3. South Africa: Tries Habana 2, Jantjes, Rossouw; Conversions Bosman 2; Penalties Montgomery 3.

Wales: L Byrne (Llanelli); D James (Llanelli), G Thomas (Toulouse, capt), S Parker (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Clermont Auvergne), G Cooper (N-G Dragons); D Jones (Ospreys), R Thomas (Cardiff), C Horsman (Worcester), I Gough (N-G Dragons), R Sidoli (Cardiff), C Charvis (Newcastle), M Williams (Cardiff), M Owen (N-G Dragons). Replacements: A Jones (Ospreys) for Horsman 8-14, for Charvis, 60; C Sweeney (Dragons) for G Thomas, 48-53, for Byrne, 54; M Watkins (Llanelli) for Parker, 61; M Davies (Gloucester) for R Thomas, 64; M Phillips (Cardiff) for Cooper, 71.

South Africa: P Montgomery (Natal); C Jantjes (Lions), J Fourie (Lions), J de Villiers (W Province), B Habana (Blue Bulls); M Bosman (Cheetahs), M Claassens (Cheetahs); L Sephaka (Lions), J Smit (Natal, capt), CJ van der Linde (Cheetahs), B Botha (Blue Bulls), V Matfield (Blue Bulls), S Burger (W Province), J Smith (Cheetahs), J Cronje (Blue Bulls). Replacements: O du Randt (Cats) for Sephaka, 36; D Roussouw (Bulls) for Botha, 70; D W Barry (Stormers) for de Villiers, 74; B Russell (Sharks) for Jantjes, 74.

Referee: S Dickinson (Australia).