by Len Kaplan
With passionate Wales full of faith and belief that they could beat South Africa at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday, and the passionate Springboks keen to bury the disappointment of two defeats to New Zealand and go through their northern hemisphere tour winning three out of three, there was palpable excitement and huge anticipation ahead of the Test. Despite lacking the clinical precision which is their raison d’etre, South Africa scored three tries to nil to win 24-15 in a match which produced everything from contrasting strategies to sublime skill to superb goal-kicking to fascinating officiating.
5 things we learned from Springboks vs Wales:
• Astute tactical kicking, allied with sharp decision-making and picking up of tempo, can beat a team committed to retention of possession through phases after phase. Possession needs to be translated into penetration of defence, or you are likely to suffer defeat. You need to create and finish. Wales failed to score any points other than through Leigh Halfpenny’s unerringly accurate boot, while the Springboks played a mostly effective kicking game, and scored three tries by taking chances and half-chances.
• Yes, you can come from Japanese club rugby straight into the Test rugby. In the end the result was settled on the combined rugby genius of Suntory Goliath’s Fourie du Preez and Kobelco Steelers Jaque Fourie. Du Preez’s perfectly placed left-footed kick and Fourie’s skilful pick-up and perfectly judged pass to put Du Preez into space were absolute class.
• Welsh loosehead Gethin Jenkins was playing in his 99th Test match for Wales. His five Tests for the British and Irish Lions takes his international total to 104. He turns 33 next weekend. Springbok tighthead Frans Malherbe, at age 22, was making his Test debut. Jenkins is greatly respected as a scrummager, while Malherbe is a Test novice, in the early stages of learning his trade as a prop. What we learned is that Malherbe is the natural back-up to Jannie du Plessis (31 next weekend). Malherbe’s scrummaging performance was strong and technically excellent. He made nine tackles in 55 minutes too, more than any other tight forward in the game, including those who played 80 minutes.
• Alun Wyn Jones has played for Wales since 2006 and been on two Lions tours for a total of 77 Test matches. Luke Charteris has played 41 tests since his 2004 debut. Bradley Davies has played 41 tests since his 2008 debut. But the best lock on the field was Eben Etzebeth, who has just turned 22 and at the start of 2012 was a promising UCT club player hoping to get a look-in for Western Province to break into first-class rugby. He is a rare second row phenomenon, making a major impact in every Test match despite his youth and inexperience. He could well go on to become one of the all-time greats of Springbok rugby.
• Alain Rolland refereed his 67th Test match on Saturday. He has been a Test referee since 2001, with the highlight of his career the 2007 World Cup Final. He has enjoyed the respect of players and coaches in an honoured career where he has earned a reputation for accuracy and consistency. What a pity then that his swansong as a Test referee should have been such a disappointment, with breakdown inconsistency, a scrummaging shambles, a total of 26 penalties (despite both teams trying to play positively), and the bizarre, perhaps unique, yellow card for a substitute prop at his very first scrum.
Quotes of the Week:
There’s a massive amount of frustration. We didn’t win and that’s all that matters. There was belief that we could have won but it wasn’t to be.”
– Wales captain Sam Warburton.
“It’s not the fitness or physicality, it’s that tempo and speed of thought and it sometimes takes a bit of time to get used to it.”
– Wales coach Warren Gatland
“They had possession, but it’s important what you do with it.”
– Springbok captain Jean de Villiers