Allister Coetzee’s Springboks went down 27-13 to Wales in Cardiff on Saturday and ended their 2016 season with the worst South African win record in the professional era. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The good news for long-suffering Bok fans is that the 2016 season is finally over. The bad news is that this season will go down in South African rugby history for all the wrong reasons.
The Boks have suffered several humiliating defeats in 2016. Earlier this year, they lost to Ireland for the first time at home, and to the Pumas for the first time in Argentina. They lost four of their six Rugby Championship Tests, the last of which witnessed a record defeat (to the All Blacks) on South African soil.
Following another shambolic performance and result in Cardiff on Saturday, Coetzee’s side has finished its three-Test tour of Europe with three gutting defeats. It has finished the 2016 season without a single victory away from home, and with a pathetic overall win record of 33%.
No South African side has ever fared so badly in a single year during the professional era. No Bok coach, not even the hapless Carel du Plessis, has recorded a worse return during his first year at the helm.
That said, the result at the Millennium Stadium will surprise no one. After the shock loss to Italy in Florence, Coetzee all but waved the white flag when he backed four debutants in his match 23 and a host of untried combinations in his starting XV.
It was a ploy geared towards winning the support of the South African public. Perhaps this young and untried side could break the shackles. Perhaps they could be excused for losing if they showed intent and enthusiasm. Perhaps there would be a reason to cheer after a season that’s witnessed nothing but disappointment.
But on the night, the combinations battled to gel and the individuals were devoid of all conviction. Indeed, there was nothing to celebrate about yet another limp showing at the gainline. Players were often isolated at the breakdowns and held up in the wider channels. In some instances, the ball was ripped away by the hungrier Welsh forwards.
Coetzee’s decision to back Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies backfired spectacularly. Both were guilty of elementary handling errors. Both made shocking decisions, and De Klerk’s yellow card for cynical play in the 42nd minute allowed Wales to take control of the match.
Leigh Halfpenny punished the Boks for their early transgressions. The visitors battled to get out of their own half due to some exceptionally poor tactical kicking. They were manhandled by the Welsh in contact, and when they were penalised, Halfpenny stepped up to make them pay. By half-time, Wales were out to a 12-6 lead.
De Klerk was sin-binned shortly after half-time. The Bok scrumhalf stuck a hand out to kill a Welsh attacking movement, and was given his marching orders.
Wales worked their way deep into opposition territory, and then scored through hooker Ken Owens. Suddenly, Wales enjoyed a 20-6 lead. From that point, the game was theirs to lose.
Wales maintained their focus in the final half hour, and managed to drive the advantage home. Spurred on by the support inside the Millennium Stadium, they continued to hammer into the Bok defenders. They continued to put up the high ball and continued to beat the Bok receivers in the air.
South Africa went on to sustain just their third loss to Wales. While Uzair Cassiem scored for the visitors late in the game, it was Wales No 7 Justin Tipuric who ensured that the Dragons had the final say.
That latter score took Wales 14 points clear of the Boks. The hosts kept South Africa out in the dying stages, and in doing so claimed their biggest win over the Boks in history.
The result in Cardiff caps a truly horrific year for the Boks. It’s a result that would have done nothing to alter the widely held perception that Coetzee and his coaching staff are out of their depth, and that the South African structures require significant changes.
Wales – Tries: Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric. Conversion: Leigh Halfpenny. Penalties: Halfpenny (5).
Springboks – Try: Uzair Cassiem. Conversion: Pat Lambie. Penalties: Elton Jantjies (2).
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c).
Subs: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts.
Springboks – 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lionel Mapoe.
Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images