CARDIFF, WALES – This was one for the purists; in truth, a game only a mother could love. But Wales finally learnt to win ugly and stay defensively sound for 80 minutes. And what of the Springboks? Oh, the Boks. They played their same old route one, straight ahead rugby that they are renown for. No creativity, no flair, and now two losses in a four game series, even the most diehard of South African fans is wondering what Heyneke Meyer does when he meets with his coaches. And now to add injury to insult, his captain Jean de Villiers is facing up to eight months on the sidelines with a torn hamstring and dislocated kneecap.
Wales were unspectacular but made the best of a poor situation, brilliantly marshaled by Dan Biggar and their rampaging, ball stealing, breakdown menace Sam Warburton. Very much a case of guts over glamour and glory. The South African backline was virtually non-existent in the first half, Pat Lambie had a solid game and is surely the Boks Number 1 fly half after this tour. Cobus Reinach dictated play well, but outside them Jean de Villiers barely touched the ball in the first half, Cornal Hendricks did not appear to even be on the pitch. Lwazi Mvovo was sound with his covering defence but unfortunate not to ever get the ball in real space. In the loose the South African forwards had the ascendancy through the first half and it took true grit for the Welsh pack to shut them down with wave after wave of green jerseys crashing over them. But apart from an Eben Etzebeth charge there were few try scoring opportunities in the first half. 3-3 and the big question of whether Wales could go the distance was on everyone’s lips. The second half saw the emergence of the Welsh scrum. With half an hour to go, the Welsh scrum commenced its dismantling of the Springbok scrum, every scrum was an eight man shove, as opposed to the South African team who seemed to content to not force their loose forwards to scrimmage and as such were decimated, even when substitutes Adrian Strauss and Trevor Nyakane came on. The Welsh defence was outstanding blitzing hard on the outside centre channel stopping the ball from going wide and ensuring every time Willie Le Roux got the ball he was gang tackled and forced into traffic, not allowing him to ever cut loose.
With 20 minutes left, it truly looked like Wales would win, simply because the Boks and the Gods of Rugby seemed to be in their favour. Meyer substituted both Lambie and Reinach, replacing them with Handre Pollard and Francois Hougaard. The Lambie substitution was certainly not tactical, especially when Lambie was playing so well, Meyer thought he could win the game and allow his newest fly half to have a crack at one last game before the end of the tour. As for Hougaard, he simply proved how poor he is as a decision maker. De Villiers had his horror injury and the Boks looked rudderless and panicked. Willie Le Roux who was far from his best dropped a simple high ball under no pressure, and Hougaard kicked straight into touch to give the Welsh the ball twice in Boks territory. Cornal Hendricks was perhaps unfairly yellow carded, but some would argue he had had such little influence anyway that it made very little difference.
The South African team looked very naïve, some will argue they had all their newer players on at once, but there will come a time when the Springboks will no longer be able to call on De Villiers and Victor Matfield. Bakkies Botha and Jacques Fourie have retired from international rugby this week and Heyneke Meyer will now be forced (finally!) to blood new talent. Teboho Mohoje carried well in the Wales game, but Nizaam Carr never had enough game time this tour, particularly since he is the polar opposite of incumbent Number 8, Duane Vermeulen. This was a famous gutsy victory for Wales and at least showed they have the guts to eke out an ugly victory.
The de Villiers injury may (MAY!) be a blessing in disguise, forcing Meyer to change his centre makeup and possibly allowing a ball player to enter the partnership (Juan de Jongh perhaps?). What is for sure is that Jan Serfontein and Jean de Villiers bring zero creativity to the Boks back-line and as such perhaps a different tact might be called for, hope springs eternal.
It would appear Wales have found their halfback combination with Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar, both dangerous and commanding presences. Their tight five were outstanding with their work rate, special mention to Gethin Jenkins for his manic tackling in the loose. They may not be the finished article, but give them space and they can score points (even without George North), and with a metronomic kicker like Leigh Halfpenny they stand a strong chance in any tight games.
As for the Springboks? Should they by some miracle win the World Cup, Heyneke Meyer still has to go, he is killing creativity and endeavour in his country’s rugby players. His lack of imagination or creativity speak to a serious failing in him as a coach and is a huge worry for the next generation of South African stars who lose out to MUCH older players, because experience will always win apparently. Unfortunately just because you have played a lot of rugby that does not mean you are good, or not prone to loss of form.
Well done Wales; Springboks back to the drawing board.