There has been so much talk of southern hemisphere superiority this year that the 45,000 supporters who made the pilgrimage to the Arms Park expected nothing other than a convincing Springbok victory.
No matter that the tourists were on their knees after a brutally hard campaign that had started way back in January; no matter that Gary Teichmann, their captain, was so concerned at the degree of tiredness among his squad that he called only two brief training sessions in the week leading into the game. The Boks would win at a canter. Everyone knew it.
Predictably, the world was not turned on its head. Joost van der Westhuizen, gliding like a thoroughbred across the wide open spaces, scored three tries from scrum-half and looked as though he had just returned, full of vigour, from a month's rest and recuperation on the golden sands of Durban. Wales could barely lay a hand on him, and on the odd occasion that the sleek predator from Northern Transvaal was brought to earth, he was able to offload the ball to some other accomplished high-wire act - Andre Joubert or James Small or the marvellous Ruben Kruger.
It was not that Wales played badly. There was far more about them yesterday than against Australia a fortnight ago: their back-row stood up to be counted for once and with the two reinstated refugees from rugby league, Scott Gibbs and Allan Bateman, making encouraging headway in midfield, there were things happening out wide, too. But the stark fact remains that the Boks were home and dry well before the interval.
Van der Westhuizen was responsible for most of the early damage, showing brute strength to muscle his way over from a close-range scrum to give his side the lead on 11 minutes and then displaying his more refined talents by drawing the positionally challenged Neil Jenkins into a web of confusion before weaving his way across the line shortly before half-time. His final try, within 90 seconds of the restart, was pure opportunism; a quick pounce on a loose Welsh pass beneath their own posts. It was a virtuoso performance.
As Andre Markgraaff, the Springbok coach, was quick to point out afterwards, this South African side has the potential to match New Zealand as a 15- man, point-scoring force. However, it was abundantly clear yesterday that the tourists remain every bit as committed to the watertight defence that won them the World Cup 18 months ago. They protected their line with a passion; even with the game in the bag they put life and limb at risk with last-ditch tackles. The look of complete exasperation on Teichmann's face when Arwel Thomas finally unlocked the door in the closing seconds bore testament to a devotion to duty almost beyond the British rugby imagination.
Once Wales slipped more than a score behind - and it happened as early as the 15th minute when Henry Honiball kicked the second of two penalties either side of Van der Westhuizen's opening thrust - the writing was on the wall. For all the big hits delivered by Dale McIntosh on his debut and for all the surging runs of his back-row partner Colin Charvis, the home side's only obvious source of points remains the right boot of Jenkins. By comparison, the Boks looked capable of anything. When Joubert cruised over unopposed on 23 minutes after a run from Teichmann down the left, the gulf was all too apparent.
The 11-point interval margin might just as well have been doubled for Wales were effectively dead and buried. Van der Westhuizen's hat-trick try, supplemented by a score for Jacques Olivier off the back of a stinging run from Japie Mulder, merely underlined the fact, and by the time the fatigue factor came into play for the Boks, most of the Welsh team found they were experiencing something similar.
Sadly for McIntosh, the proceedings ended prematurely. He had been visibly shaken by an early clash of heads with James Dalton, the vibrant South African hooker, and 12 minutes from time he suffered one knock too many and was led from the field to give Nathan Thomas of Bath a first taste of international action. It was not all doom and gloom for the New Zealand- born flanker, though. His display had suggested good things to come in the forthcoming Five Nations' Championship.
That tournament is fast becoming an albatross around the neck of British rugby, however. Thanks to the southern superpowers' successes in Europe over the past two months, Triple Crowns and Grand Slams mean less now than at any point this century.
WALES: N Jenkins (Pontypridd); I Evans (Llanelli), A Bateman (Richmond), S Gibbs (Swansea), D James (Bridgend); A Thomas (Swansea), R Howley (Cardiff); C Loader (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), D Young (Cardiff), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), M Rowley (Pontypridd), D McIntosh (Pontypridd), S Williams (Neath), C Charvis (Swansea). Replacement: N Thomas (Bath) for McIntosh, 68.
SOUTH AFRICA: A Joubert (Natal); J Small (Natal), J Mulder (Transvaal), H le Roux (Transvaal), J Olivier (Northern Transvaal); H Honiball (Natal), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); D Theron (Griqualand West), J Dalton (Transvaal), A Garvey (Natal), J Wiese (Transvaal), M Andrews (Natal), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal), G Teichmann (Natal, capt), A Venter (Orange Free State). Replacements: T Van der Linde (Western Province) for Theron, 20; H Strydom (Transvaal) for Andrews, 42; D Snyman (Northern Transvaal) for Olivier, 75.
Referee: S Lander (England).Reuse content