The Springboks crumbled in the face of a fierce Welsh aerial and physical assault to lose 24-22 on Saturday and end their season in the worst possible fashion. JON CARDINELLI at the Millennium Stadium reports.
The tour to the northern hemisphere is over. The 2017 season is over. Following yet another humiliating performance and result, Allister Coetzee’s tenure as Bok coach must well and truly be over.
The quality of the performance was effectively a vote of no-confidence in Coetzee and the coaching staff. The players lacked urgency as well as accuracy in what was a game-shaping opening quarter.
Ultimately, the Boks failed to deliver a match-winning showing that may well have saved Coetzee’s job.
Wales came into this contest without a host of star players. But after a spirited rendition of the national anthem by the 65,317 souls under the roof of the Millennium Stadium, the Dragons started to believe that David could indeed slay Goliath.
Wales dominated the collisions and breakdowns. Dan Biggar used that steady flow of possession to target a weak and inexperienced Bok back-three with a series of garryowens.
Conditions were perfect under the roof on Saturday, and yet it was raining high balls. Andries Coetzee had a shocker at the back while Warrick Gelant – playing in the unfamiliar position of left wing – was exposed on several occasions. Defensively, there was little to no communication by the backs.
The Boks were outsmarted and outplayed by Ireland at the breakdown and in the air three weeks ago. On Saturday, Wales sought to pressure the Boks in these areas. Terrific execution, and very little resistance on the part of the Boks, allowed Wales to go 14-0 up after eight minutes.
Biggar emulated Beauden Barrett with an outstanding kick-pass which found Hallan Amos on the right wing. Amos swerved inside to beat Coetzee and then deliver the final pass to Scott Williams.
A chip kick over the Bok defence in the eighth minute resulted in a try for debutant Hadleigh Parkes. Not for the first time, the Bok backs were caught out of position.
The stadium exploded in elation and possibly more than a little disbelief. Against many expectations, the game was suddenly Wales’ to lose.
Parkes crossed for his second try of the afternoon in the 33rd minute. An attempted clearance by Coetzee was charged down, and Taulupe Faletau reacted quickly to scoop up the ball and find the No 12 with an offload.
That was the blow that woke the Boks from their slumber. Dillyn Leyds counterattacked and then found Jesse Kriel with an inspired pass. The centre kicked back in-field for his teammates to chase, and Gelant beat the cover defence to score.
Handré Pollard was one of the few players who showed leadership over the course of the game. The flyhalf nailed a difficult conversion in the 37th minute as the Boks went to the break trailing 21-10.
The Boks played with more fire and precision in the opening stages of the second stanza. Pollard scored from close range after a sustained assault on the Wales tryline. Kriel charged through two defenders in the 56th minute, and Pollard’s conversion from the touchline steered the Boks into a 22-21 lead.
Wales controlled possession and territory thereafter, and won a penalty right in front of goal. A kicker of Leigh Halfpenny’s quality was never going to miss from 30m out, and so the hosts regained the lead.
What followed was a determined defensive showing by the Dragons. The Boks continued to come at the hosts in the dying minutes, but to no avail. Wales maintained their composure as well as their level of physicality in that decisive period.
Bizarrely, two of the Boks’ best players, Pollard and Malcolm Marx, were taken off as the game raced towards a climax. South Africa could well have used Pollard’s leadership and Marx’s ball-carrying power as they sought to make a match-winning play. Captain Eben Etzebeth didn’t feature at all in the second half due to an injury.
Some might applaud the Boks for fighting back. The big question is why it took so long for them to get going in this fixture, and why they waited until they were 21-3 down before they started playing.
The result sees the Boks ending their tour to the northern hemisphere with a two-from-four record, and their season with sevens wins in 13 Tests.
Overall, Coetzee’s side has achieved a 44% win record in two years. The result in Cardiff confirmed what many already know to be true: that a change in the coaching staff is long overdue.
Wales – Tries : Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes (2). Conversions: Leigh Halfpenny (3). Penalty: Halfpenny.
Springboks – Tries: Warrick Gelant, Handré Pollard, Jesse Kriel. Conversions. Handré Pollard (2). Penalty: Pollard.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Hallam Amos, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin.
Springboks – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Warrick Gelant, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Oupa Mohoje, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Lukhanyo Am.
Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images