Wellington - South Africa coach Peter de Villiers's decision to name the most experienced Springboks side to ever take the field paid off when they managed to overcome a battling Wales 17-16 in their opening rugby World Cup Pool D clash on Sunday.
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The world champions, with 815 total Test caps, were forced to defend for most of the match as the combative Welsh kept them pinned in their own half and held on to the ball for long periods.
The Springboks, who had led 10-6 at the break, fought back from a 16-10 deficit after rampaging Wales number eight Toby Faletau had scored his side's only try with about 25 minutes remaining.
Replacement Springboks winger Francois Hougaard, however, finished off a tidy, planned move after a sustained buildup - the South Africans' only real scoring opportunity in the second half - to seal the win.
"I think that has a lot to do with it," Springboks captain John Smit told reporters when asked if he felt their experience had played a part in securing the victory.
"The boys have been around for a while (and) it's often those moments when you're behind the poles and a try has been scored and you're down by a point and you are looking at the sky.
"There was a lot of calm out there. We have got huge belief in each other.
"There was still a lot of time as well, (so) we didn't need to panic. We just needed to get in their half, which was quite difficult."
South Africa coach De Villiers was pleased the way the team had battled through the match.
"What a brilliant start for us," he said. "We always knew this pool was going to be very tough. There are no easy games in this pool.
"To be on top of your game the first game of the tournament was very hard but we are very happy.
"The guys, I call it not a rugby Test today. I call it a test of character. We came to a win today and we have achieved our first goal."
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