The Springboks admitted that Wales gave them a fright when they came back to lose Saturday’s test match in Cardiff by just five points, but there were positive aspects of the match that far outweighed what was overall a sloppy performance.
Gavin Rich writes for SuperRugby that the Boks led 20-3 with more than a quarter of the match remaining, so the fact that they eventually scraped home 20-15 was an indication that the Welsh finished by far the stronger of the two teams.
There were reasons for this: Firstly, when the Boks went 17 points ahead courtesy of a fortuitous intercept try to Jean de Villiers, the management made wholesale changes to the team which perhaps impacted on momentum, and secondly, as skipper John Smit admitted afterwards, the score led the Boks to think they could sit on their lead.
“I think we were guilty of taking our foot off the pedal in the last 20 minutes. Jean’s try, which was a lucky break for us at the time, put us into a lead which made us feel very comfortable, and we were perhaps guilty of trying to sit on what was really quite a small lead,” said Smit.
The captain said that the Boks had “not quite been on the button” with a few of the things they intended to do, but agreed that Wales have improved significantly since the last time the Boks were in this part of the world and their defensive effort prevented the Boks from imposing their will on proceedings.
“We did score two tries to nil in this match and it was our third win over Wales this year in three starts, so I am reasonably satisfied with what we have achieved,” said Smit in response to a question about Welsh coach Warren Gatland’s view that the better team had lost.
It is true that the Boks did most of the playing in this match, but then they were forced to do that by the early 10 point lead taken by the Boks. For all their huff and puff and honest endeavour, the Welsh never seriously looked like scoring a try against an organized, physical and committed defensive system.
They did make several line breaks during the course of the match, and both Gatland and backs coach Rob Howley lamented missed opportunities, but in many ways Wales took on the role that South Africa took on in many of the Tri-Nations matches that they lost. It was a massive positive for the Boks that for once it was they who got the strategy right, with their kicking game and strong emphasis on playing from territory paving the way for this victory.
The Boks never ran a single ball from the wrong side of the halfway line in the first 40 minutes, and it is hard to recall them doing so in the second either. And the role that Ruan Pienaar played in his first test match as a starting flyhalf in ensuring that the Boks stuck to their discipline in this regard was another massive positive.
Certainly the Boks have plenty of reason to feel comfortable with Pienaar as a flyhalf, and the only remaining question mark revolves around how he feels for it given his preference for the No9 jersey.
The other switch, that of Smit from hooker to tighthead, was another positive, but the captain was being careful not to get too carried away about it afterwards. “It went nicely, and I got a lot of help from the players around me. I would hesitate though to say that I have now successfully completed the switch, because tighthead is an extremely difficult position to play and get used to, and you cannot draw a conclusion from just one game.”
Still, there were concerns before the match that Smit might not shape, which would have been problematic as the South Africans look forward to the big match against England at Twickenham in a fortnight from now. The scrumming was solid, so for now there is reason to move forward with confidence. The Boks will be the first to admit though that there are several areas they need to work on, and the amount of defending they had to do is reason for concern.Tweet