Wales beat the Springboks 12-6 on Saturday to claim their first big southern hemisphere scalp in six years, reports JON CARDINELLI at the Millennium Stadium.
It was an ugly, unconvincing, and at times comically inept performance. But Warren Gatland and Wales will take the result.
The victory marks an end to their 22-game losing streak against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It's also the first win against the Boks under Gatland, and only the second against South Africa in history. This result will be remembered long after the performance is forgotten.
This was never going to be a one-sided affair. This match was always going to be in the balance until the final 20 minutes, with a collective will and composure determining the outcome rather than flash and flair.
The Boks were forced to explore new depths of their fortitude at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. They encountered a Wales side up for the physical fight, and a home crowd desperate for that elusive southern hemisphere scalp. The pressure inside Cardiff’s famous cauldron couldn’t have been greater.
Defence is the prevailing force in the northern hemisphere, and both Wales and South Africa showed an appreciation for the fact on Saturday. Both defences were quick off the line, both were monstrous in contact, and Wales in particular were very good at slowing their opponents’ recycle at the breakdown.
Leigh Halfpenny punished the Boks for their transgressions, and the hosts held a 12-6 lead after 56 minutes. Moments later, Bok captain Jean de Villiers twisted his knee and was stretchered off the park. If the Boks were going to come back and extend their winning streak against Wales, they would need to do so without their inspirational captain.
And then, just when it appeared as if they had regrouped, they were dealt another significant blow. Cornal Hendricks collided with Halfpenny while competing for a high ball. Hendricks looked to be going for the ball rather than the man, but referee John Lacey deemed Hendricks had taken Halfpenny out.
This decision was only made after the partisan crowd clamoured for the Bok winger’s dismissal. Lacey bowed to the pressure and brandished a yellow card. It was a poor decision that should have cost South Africa dearly.
Incredibly, the 14-man Boks withstood wave after wave of Welsh assault. Wales battled for quick ball during this period, and the Boks held their shape on defence.
Ironically, it would be two unforced errors that gave Wales their best chance to strike. Francois Hougaard’s direct kick to touch after tapping a penalty and Willie le Roux’s bobble in front of his own goal line handed possession back to the hosts.
A powerful defensive scrum earned the Boks a penalty and allowed them to clear their lines. They had managed to keep Wales scoreless during the 10-minute period of sanction.
The Boks had a chance to snatch the result at the death thanks to yet another Welsh mistake. Scott Williams attempted to field Handré Pollard’s penalty kick to touch, but only succeeded in knocking the ball over the dead ball line.
But then it was South Africa’s turn to choke on attack. Their scrum buckled, and the ball popped loose. Yet another mistake by Le Roux under the high ball gifted Wales a great field position in the final minutes.
When the final whistle went, the 58,000 inside the Millennium Stadium erupted. It is not only a massive result in the context of this rivalry, but also in terms of next year’s World Cup. Wales have proved they can go the distance and beat one of the traditional big three.
The Boks should be disappointed. They didn’t perform to their potential and failed to take their chances in front of goal. They have finished their tour to Europe with a two from four record, and will go into the summer break with much to ponder and rectify.
Wales – Penalties: Leigh Halfpenny (4).
Springboks – Penalties: Pat Lambie (2).
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Aaron Jarvis, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 James King, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Damian de Allende.
Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images