Fourie du Preez scored a 75th-minute try to boost the Springboks to a 23-19 win against Wales in their World Cup quarter-final on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports from Twickenham.
The Boks certainly saved the best for last. For 75 minutes, they bumbled and squandered their attacking opportunities. Flyhalf Handré Pollard missed three attempts at goal. Those misses so nearly cost South Africa the game and ended their World Cup tournament.
But when the big moment arrived, the Boks showed their quality and composure. The South African forwards hammered into their Wales counterparts at the set piece. The scrum wheeled, and Duane Vermeulen broke down the blindside. The hulking No 8 took on two Wales defenders, but still managed to free up an arm.
In an unbelievable display of skill that would have put the Harlem Globetrotters to shame, Vermeulen managed to throw an out-the-back pass while he was falling to the turf. Du Preez had read the play superbly, and was on hand to take the pass. When the Bok captain dived over in the left-hand corner and referee Wayne Barnes signalled the try, a packed Twickenham erupted.
That play by Vermeulen and try by Du Preez has catapulted the Boks into the semi-finals. While the Boks will be elated, they will also be more than a little relieved. Indeed, when Wales held the lead as the game moved into the decisive fourth quarter, South Africa's chances of winning did not look great.
Wales were outstanding in the first 40 minutes. Their loose forwards weren’t always accurate at the breakdown, and Pollard capitalised through four penalties. What the likes of Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau did bring was intensity and physicality. The Boks were put under a lot of pressure at the gainline and at the rucks.
Dan Biggar caused the Boks a lot of problems with his pinpoint kicking game. It was Biggar who made the biggest play of the first half.
The Wales flyhalf put up a high ball for Willie le Roux, and chased his own kick. The Bok fullback misjudged the kick completely, and Biggar managed to regather and then put halfback partner Gareth Davies away for a try.
Biggar nailed a drop goal on the stroke of half-time to give Wales a slender 13-12 lead. The Dragons went into the second stanza with the momentum. The Boks looked rattled, and it took them some time to regain their composure.
The Boks would get themselves into good field positions and then conspire to lose the ball. Again, the Wales loose forwards were excellent in this regard. Warburton made some excellent decisions at the breakdown, while Lydiate made some momentum-stalling hits.
But the Bok loose forwards would have a more decisive say in the final 10 minutes. Schalk Burger had another big game at the collisions, while Vermeulen was a monster at the breakdown.
The Bok No 8 came up with an important turnover in the 71st minute. Wales were on the attack at that stage, and inside the Boks’ 22. They were 19-18 ahead, and had they added a further three to their tally at that point, they may have won the game. But Vermeulen identified an opportunity at the ruck, and then executed the steal to perfection.
The roar inside Twickenham was deafening as the Boks began their slow march upfield. Barnes refused to give the Boks a penalty despite their dominance at the gainline during this period. But the Boks were rewarded with a scrum, and this platform, as it would happen, was enough.
Following Du Preez’s try, the Boks ensured that the final seconds were played out deep in Wales territory. The Boks maintained their composure, and the defence forced yet another turnover. Fittingly, it was Du Preez who then cleared the ball into the stands and ended the game.
It was not a perfect performance, but it was enough to win the match and keep the Boks’ slim World Cup hopes alive.
Springboks – Try: Fourie du Preez. Penalties: Handré Pollard (5). Drop goal: Pollard.
Wales – Try: Gareth Davies. Conversion: Dan Biggar. Penalties: Biggar (3). Drop goal: Biggar.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Wales – 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Tom Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 James Hook.
Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images