South Africa eased past Wales in their opening international of the season, with the Springboks recording an impressive 43-17 victory over the Welsh Dragons in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Rugby 365 reports that the four tries to two win saw the Boks retain their No.1 ranking on the International Rugby Board (IRB) standings.
It was a strange Test match. The day was sunny, and there are many, many Tests played in gloom or worse. The construction site at Vodacom Park in Bloemfontein had none of the sophistication one associates with Test venues. And the crowd was small.
In the Super 14, there were crowds of over 40 000 at Newlands, Loftus Versfeld, Absa Stadium in Durban and even Ellis Park and here there was a meagre sprinkling of people for Test match, a crowd boosted by many cheerful visitors from Wales. It was a strange Test match.
The two countries arrived with labels – World Champions and Six Nations Champions. A South African team won the World Cup and a Welsh team won the Six Nations. But neither of those teams was in action in Bloemfontein. The countries were the same, the teams not. South Africa started with five players from the World Cup Final – one third.
Wales’s avowed intent in going into this match was to win respect. There was not a lot to respect in their shabby performance.
They were better in the first half, which they lost 22-12. They were heavier and scrummed better. They won a majority of possession but apart from their try they did little with it. Their handling was really poor.
In that half, an itsy-bitsy patchwork of not much artistic merit, the Springboks were clearly the better side. Their scrums started poorly with a penalty and two free kicks against them but they got better. Perhaps the sunshine and the altitude combined to sap Wales’s strength as Delilah once did Samson’s.
The second half went better for South Africa, at least for the first 20 minutes of the half, after which they gave all of their squad a chance to enjoy beating Wales. One of the substitutions was odd. Adi Jacobs, a centre, limped off injured. On came Percy Montgomery, a fullback, while Peter Grant, a centre-flyhalf, stayed seated on the bench.
The game certainly petered out in the last 20 minutes. The worst symptom of the degeneration was the use of an uncontested scrum for the Springboks, five metres from the Welsh line. How feeble is that!
All of that said, Wales did provide the game’s golden moment and a bit of impish cheek. Earlier in the game they had created space for Shane Williams but the pass to him was forward. This time replacement Morgan Stoddard sent him away and into almost empty acres. He raced away from Montgomery and as Bryan Habana sped across in cover in the absence from duty of Conrad Jantjes Williams, used Habana’s speed against him and skated on a smooth bowbend inside Habana and again away from Montgomery to sucrose at the posts, stopping briefly to shade his eyes as the he look into the distance for Habana!
John Smit was allowed to go out alone onto the field for the Springboks in this his 50th Test as captain, and he had a great performance, the calm hand on the tiller of the team and playing so well. He is the best hooker the Springbok coach has at his disposal and obviously the best hooker.
Butch James kicked off for South Africa and kicked magnificently all afternoon. The first four Springbok scores were James penalty goals. Jonathan Thomas conceded the first at a tackle, Ryan Jones the second when he was off-side, Ian Gough the third when he blundered clumsily into the side of a tackle and Shanklin the fourth, also at a tackle.
There were questions about the effect of the recent IRB injunction to police the tackle severely. This seemed to have a greater impact on the Welsh side, who were used to the “old Laws” than on the Springboks who were coming back from the experimental law variations. The penalties at the tackle went 8-3 against Wales. (The IRB may well have to issue a decree about refereeing the high tackle according to the Laws of the Game.)
The first penalty against South Africa at the tackle was against Jean de Villiers, and Stephen Jones goaled to make the score 6-3 after 14 minutes.
The first Springbok try was a sweet one. Andries Bekker won a Welsh throw into a line-out. The ball went wide and came back again. Luke Watson, Smit, Jacobs and Jantjes were involved before Jantjes scored. The interplay between him and Jacobs was exquisite – Conradie to Jantjes to Jacobs on his left and then to Jantjes cutting back on his left for a try which Jacobs could have scored himself. James, inevitably, converted. 19-3 after 30 minutes.
Wales then had a few good moments, starting with a break by Stephen Jones as he got away from Pierre Spies.
Then came an erratic up-and-under by Jantjes at which Tonderai Chavhanga was penalised for being off-side. Wales tapped and ran. Sonny Parker burst free of Jantjes and Chavhanga and sent Jamie Roberts triumphantly over in the corner. From touch Stephen Jones converted, 19-10 after 38 minutes.
But the Welsh dawn was a short day and another penalty coin ceded by Ryan Jones brought the score to 22-10 at the break.
South Africa again hit the half running. A clever pass from Juan Smith to Spies saw the No.8 running strongly but well tackled by Lawrence. Jacobs went streaking away on a break off a clever pass by De Villiers but Roberts made the tackle. That was two try-saving tackles in minutes by the young fullback.
Wales mauled off a defensive scrum but Smit ripped the ball free and ran to his left, sending a perfect pass to De Villiers who raced ahead. Knocked down but no held he got up and plunged over with help from Jacobs. 29-10 after 48 minutes.
Watson forced a breach close to a tackle/ruck and set Bolla Conradie racing down the midfield. He swept past Stoddard and when tackled popped the ball to Spies who scored near the posts. 36-10 after 56 minutes.
The threatened hammering did not happen as play became desultory except for that brilliant, sparkling gem of a try by Shane Williams, 36-17.
The Springboks had a good chance with as James gave to Habana and then produced a long-range try. Smith fielded James Hook’s long kick well inside the Springboks half and threw in quickly from touch to Ruan Pienaar who started running. He gave to Habana and then the ball came back left with a short quick pass to Montgomery on the burst and the 95-cap veteran burst past Stoddard for a try in the left corner, which James converted.
Habana was over but the TMO ruled that he had not grounded the ball. In the action leading up to it, a rare Springbok maul CJ van der Linde Richard Hibbard had fallen out of love and were sent off to the sin bin, where they ended their game.
Habana had not had many opportunities, well though he played. The Springboks have who known speedsters on the wings – Habana and Chavhanga. Not once did they create space for either though the Welsh managed to do it twice for Williams.
Man of the Match: The most obvious candidates are Butch James, John Smit and Juan Smith. Resisting the sentimental, we declare Juan Smith the Man of the Match – for what he achieves in line-outs, in tackling, in carrying the ball, in nonstop action.
Moment of the Match: Shane Williams’s try.
Villain of the Match: CJ van der Linde and Richard Hibbard. Their childish tussle was made worse because it was so out of character with the rest of the match.
For South Africa:
Tries: Jantjes, De Villiers, Spies, Montgomery
Cons: James 4
Pens: James 5
Tries: Roberts, Williams
Cons: S Jones 2
Pen: S Jones
Yellow card: CJ van der Linde (South Africa, 75 – foul play, punching), Richard Hibbard (Wales, 75 – foul play)
Springboks: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Bolla Conradie, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Luke Watson, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 John Smit (captain), 1 Gürthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Victor Matfield, 19 Danie Rossouw, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Peter Grant, 22 Percy Montgomery.
Wales: 15 Jamie Roberts, 14 Mark Jones, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Sonny Parker, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Gareth Cooper, 8 Ryan Jones (captain), 7 Dafydd Jones, 6 Jonathan Thomas, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Gethin Jenkins, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Adam Jones
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Ian Evans, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Warren Fury, 21 James Hook, 22 Morgan Stoddard
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Touch judges: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand), Stuart Terheege (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)