White's error leaves Springboks on the rack

Wales 36 - South Africa 38
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The Independent Online

It was not the Joneses who caused the confusion, although there were enough of the blighters to leave this bewitching South African side profoundly bothered and almost terminally bewildered. It was the clock that did it. For reasons best known to himself, a coach as sharp as Jake White could not get his head around the fairly basic principle of an 80-minute match, followed by injury time. This was not a proposition from Wittgenstein, as Basil Fawlty would have pointed out, but it was entirely beyond Springbok reasoning and it very nearly cost them the Grand Slam they crave with a passion.

It was not the Joneses who caused the confusion, although there were enough of the blighters to leave this bewitching South African side profoundly bothered and almost terminally bewildered. It was the clock that did it. For reasons best known to himself, a coach as sharp as Jake White could not get his head around the fairly basic principle of an 80-minute match, followed by injury time. This was not a proposition from Wittgenstein, as Basil Fawlty would have pointed out, but it was entirely beyond Springbok reasoning and it very nearly cost them the Grand Slam they crave with a passion.

The tourists were 38-22 ahead when, after 78 minutes, White withdrew the medium-sized South African province known as Os du Randt from his front row, and summoned the blond battering ram Schalk Burger from the field for good measure. In their stead, he sent on a couple of rookies, one of them to play out of position as a makeshift loose-head prop. Within seconds, the Bokke pack were being sacked by their Welsh opponents and Gavin Henson was sliding in at the right corner for his second try of the afternoon. And a short while after that? Humiliation in a major key in the shape of a pushover try, fittingly completed by a red-hot scrum-half from Scarlets country, Dwayne Peel.

"I think I put myself under some pressure out there," admitted White. "In South Africa, the clocks stop when the play stops, so they always show the amount of game time left in the match. I assumed that was the case here. I made the substitutions because I couldn't see how Wales had enough time to get themselves back into it. It was only when the words 'eight minutes' came into my earpiece from the referee that I realised what was happening, that the clock was running on through the stoppages. I won't get caught like that again." Not even this weekend in Ireland, where time can move in very mysterious ways? "Don't tell me that," groaned the coach.

Wales scored no fewer than 27 of their points while Burger was off the field, which says something about the influence this wonderful Western Province flanker has on a game. It used to be said that blond loose forwards had an unfair advantage over their less striking brethren, on the basis that selectors tended to notice them more quickly and more often. But referees have eyes too, sometimes in the backs of their heads, and when Paddy O'Brien spotted Burger spiriting away some possession on the floor shortly before half-time, he packed him off to the cooler for 10 minutes of penance. During his absence, Henson scored the first of his tries, and Stephen Jones contributed eight points with the boot.

Fourteen-man rugby is difficult at the best of times, but there is something about the balance of the Tri-Nations champions' back row that leaves them especially vulnerable when the sin bin comes into play. Burger's partners, Juan Smith and Joe van Niekerk, are no slouches; indeed, Van Niekerk is as good as any back-rower in the world when he carries the ball into the exposed areas of an opposition defence. But they are not at their best on the floor, amid the boots and bullets. If Johnny O'Connor, that wriggling ferret of a flanker, gets stuck into the Boks in Dublin on Saturday, there could be fun and games.

John Smit, the Springbok captain, said afterwards that this problem on the deck would be addressed as a matter of urgency. "It's a question of accuracy," he said. "When you go for a ball at the breakdown, you have to be spot-on in your timing." If the tourists do manage to get it sorted, they will be formidable indeed; God knows, there are precious few signs of weakness elsewhere. They wield both bludgeon and rapier out wide, they have iron in the centre - Marius Joubert has graduated with honours from the De Wet Barry Academy of Aggressive Behaviour, which is no great surprise given that he stands next to Barry in the back-line - and boast all the talents at half-back, where Jaco van der Westhuyzen's flights of fancy are kept on the straight and narrow by the more pragmatic Fourie de Preez.

And up front? Please. The Boks were in a different class, Du Randt ruling the scrummage and Victor Matfield bossing the line-out. They can move a bit too, these big buggers. Bakkies Botha, a mean-minded lock in the great Springbok tradition, clattered the quicksilver Shane Williams so hard in open field as the little wing dodged and darted his way out of defence on 65 minutes that Burger and Van der Westhuyzen were able to create a blinding try for Percy Montgomery in the opposite corner before Williams had regained his feet.

It gave the tourists a 38-22 lead - the second time they had established a winning advantage in the space of 50 minutes. Wales, a fresh-faced side riddled with unfamiliar combinations, spent the best part of the first half catching their breath, and were 23-6 down early in the second quarter after contrasting tries from the Boks: a blind-side snipe from the half-backs, finished by Van der Westhuyzen at the left flag after Henson had missed Joubert in midfield; and a glorious, length-of-the-field break-out orchestrated by Montgomery, who could have run through the Welsh defence in coat and tails, and completed by the athletic Van Niekerk.

That Wales were back within a point by the 47th minute, when one of the sextet of Joneses, Dafydd of Llanelli, knocked seven bells out of Montgomery with a head-down charge to give Henson his first sight of the line, was extraordinary in itself. That they hauled themselves back to within two points by the end was plain weird. If it said much for the Red Dragonhood's advance in the heart and soul department, it said more about the tourists' propensity for conceding cheap points while scoring top-dollar ones of their own.

"Six months ago, we would have bought a victory from anywhere," White said. "Now, we win a serious match away from home for the first time in ages, and people ask us why we didn't do it by more." It was a reasonable point, but the look in his eyes told the real story. The Springboks, young enough almost to a man to play in the 2007 World Cup, are 90 per cent complete. The last 10 per cent must be forged in the fires of the unfamiliar, starting at Lansdowne Road and Twickenham over the next 12 days. Unless they play the percentages better than they did here, they may just pay a price for their folly.

WALES: G Thomas (Toulouse, capt); H Luscombe (Dragons), S Parker (Ospreys), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); Stephen Jones (Clermont Auvergne), D Peel (Scarlets); Duncan Jones (Ospreys), Steve Jones (Dragons), A Jones (Ospreys), B Cockbain (Ospreys), M Owen (Dragons), Dafydd Jones (Scarlets), C Charvis (Newcastle), R Jones (Ospreys). Replacements: M Williams (Blues) for Dafydd Jones 26-31 and for Charvis 76; G Jenkins (Blues) for Duncan Jones 60; L Charteris (Dragons) for Dafydd Jones 61; T Shanklin (Blues) for Luscombe 64; C Sweeney (Dragons) for S Williams 70; M Davies (Ospreys) for Steve Jones 76.

SOUTH AFRICA: P Montgomery (Dragons); B Paulse (Western Province), M Joubert (Western Province); D Barry (Western Province), A Willemse (Lions); J van der Westhuyzen (NEC, Japan), F du Preez (Blue Bulls); O du Randt (Cheetahs), J Smit (Natal, capt), E Andrews (Western Province), B Botha (Blue Bulls), V Matfield (Blue Bulls), S Burger (Western Province), J van Niekerk (Western Province), J Smith (Cheetahs). Replacements: J de Villiers (Cheetahs) for Willemse 55; C J van der Linde (Cheetahs) for Andrews 60; B Russell (Natal) for Van der Westhuyzen 67; H Shimange (Cheetahs) for Du Randt 78; T Dlulane (Pumas) for Burger 78; M Claassens (Cheetahs) for Joubert 84.

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand)

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