Springboks too good for Wales
South Africa kicked their November tour off with a 24-15 victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.
The pre-game hype revolved around Wales being billed as a pseudo-Lions team, but unlike what we saw in Australia, this team in red was unable to outmuscle their southern hemisphere opponents as the Springboks used their big men and rolling maul to devastating effect, outscoring the Six Nations champions three tries to none.
After twenty minutes Wales looked set for a drubbing as the visitors raced to a 17-6 lead. The tourists led 17-12 at the break but saw the hosts fight back to cut the gap to just two points heading into the final quarter.
The truth be told, Wales never really got on top of their visitors and had to rely on all their points coming from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny.
Halfpenny and Morné Steyn traded early penalties as referee Alain Rolland stamped his authority on the game. The message was clear, there would be no leeway at the ruck and the penalties would flow thick and fast.
Jonathan Davies made his second break of the opening seven minutes to set up more points for Wales, again a penalty on the deck, but the Springboks would reply with their first try.
A brilliant 50-odd metre break from Bryan Habana had the Welsh defence scrambling. Bismarck du Plessis was up in support and left Liam Williams seeing stars as he charged forward before finding skipper Jean de Villiers, who showed outstanding skill to latch onto the pass behind his back and crash over.
Steyn's conversion put South Africa 10-6 ahead as the hosts were forced to re-jig their backline with both Davies and Liam Williams forced off after 12 minutes.
The Springboks second try was soon to follow, a display of pure power, as Du Plessis muscled his way over off the back of a rolling maul. Steyn's conversion was his last contribution as he too was forced from the field, meaning Pat Lambie moved to fly-half with the scores at 17-6.
Halfpenny pulled six points back via two more ruck penalties to keep Wales in the contest and when Francois Louw was yellow carded for a bit of unnecessary argy-bargy just before the break, the home side and the home crowd, were in much higher spirits as the team swapped ends at 17-12.
The scores would not budge until the 55th minute when Halfpenny found the target for the fifth time in five attempts to cut the deficit to just two points.
Confusion reigned when Rolland sent off both Gethin Jenkins and Coenie Oosthuizen (who had only just come on) as his patience ran out with the consistent collapsed scrums. Ten minutes of uncontested scrums followed.
South Africa's third try was made in Japan as Fourie du Preez and Jaque Fourie combined to give their side some breathing room. Du Preez's deft chip down the touchline was collect by the veteran centre, who miraculously found a gap to put his scrum-half clear.
Lambie's conversion left Wales trailing by nine points with ten points left on the clock and despite some late pressure, the hosts would fall well short.
Pens: Halfpenny 5
Yellow cards: Jenkins (58th min - scrum infringement)
For South Africa:
Tries: De Villiers, Du Plessis, Du Preez
Cons: Steyn 2, Lambie
Yellow cards: Louw (35th min - foul play); Oosthuizen (58th min - scrum infringement)
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 James Hook, 23 Ashley Beck.
South Africa: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Willem Alberts, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 JJ Engelbrecht, 23 Willie le Roux.
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)