Peter de Vililers and his much-maligned Springbok team showed true grit and unshakable resolve on defence in the second half to come from behind and beat a game Welsh team by 29 points to 25 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff earlier today. With their seond win in a row, the Boks remain on course to capture a Grand Slam for the first time in over 50 years.
Not that it was vintage rugby throughout, though – this exciting game, which flowed back and forth for most of the 80 minutes, was typified by some utterly atrocious decision-making among the Bok halfbacks, as well as some truly woeful defence out wide. Bryan Habana, in particular, was the main culprit in the latter instance. Afet a good start that saw Morne Steyn slot an early penalty, the Boks hardly blinked before they were 14-3 down, thanks to two quick Welsh tries, both created off counter-attacks after the Bok halfbacks had kicked away possession. The first score, to debutant right winger George North, looked incredibly suspect, as a Springbok defender was clearly taken out in the move; it was one of about a hundred things that referee Steve Walsh missed in what must surely count among his most shocking refereeing performances in a career hardly punctuated by highlights.
The visitors were clearly rattled by the Welsh and had the home-side not suffered from some poor decision-making on attack themselves, the half-time score could have been much greater than 17-9, Steyn having pulled the Boks back within 8 points thanks to two further penalties, although he did miss a simple one as well.
The first 10 minutes of the second period were much the same, before the introduction of Sharks loose forward Willem Alberts (for the anonymous Deon Stegmann) galvanised the Bok attack. The big man got stuck in straight away and with the forwards laying the platform at last – and the Boks finally opting to keep possession in hand rather than aimlessly hoofing it away – it wasn’t long before the deficit was first narrowed and then finally completely erased. Steyn kicked a penalty, before Alberts and Victor Matfield scored tries in quick succession. Suddenly, the Boks were 26-20 up and cruising to a famous victory.
Alas, one last bit of foolishness undid all the good work. Possession was given away and Bryan Habana came off his wing for the umpteenth time, leaving a huge gap for the Welsh to exploit with a clever cross-field kick that saw North over for his second try in the corner. The tricky touchline conversion was missed, however and a last Morne Steyn penalty pushed the Boks back out to a four-point lead (29-25) with about 15 minutes left to play. The Boks then held on desperately, despite wave after wave of Welsh attack, to record a famous victory, with Gio Aplon twice halting the Welsh momentum with huge rush tackles at crucial times.
For the Boks, there were big performances from Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Alberts and, to an extent Pierre Spies up front. Aplon was the only starting back to really shine, although Bjorn Basson was strong in the air all afternoon. Replacement half-backs Francois Hougaard and Pat Lambie looked sharp and composed, with the latter huge on defence in those crucial last minutes, and must surely have shown the coaching staff that they deserve an extended run against Scotland next week. Apart from Habana, Chilliboy Rallepele was the real muppet of the show, botching two lineout throws in the last ten minutes that came close to costing the Boks the game.
Once thing is for sure, though – the Boks simply cannot persist with the kick-chase strategy. It is outdated and ineffective and everybody knows it – everybody, that is, except the South african coaching team. Oh – and another thing was also clear. Willem Alberts must start every test!
Boks (29): Tries by Alberts and Matfield. 5 penalties and 2 conversions by Morne Steyn.
Wales (25): Tries by North(2) and James Hook. 2 penalties and 2 conversions by Stephen Jones