Boks scrape past gritty Wales
Wellington - South Africa got the defence of their World Cup crown off to a shaky start with an unconvincing 17-16 victory over Wales here on Sunday.
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The Springboks, featuring 16 members of the victorious 2007 squad in the match-day squad, with 11 in the starting 15, allowed the Welsh to dominate possession and the win was far from guaranteed in a tight match.
Tries from Francois Steyn and Francois Hougaard, along with Morné Steyn kicking two conversions and a penalty, were enough to outdo a Welsh side for whom Toby Faletau scored a sole try and James Hook kicked 11 points.
"It's going to be a most valuable lesson for us getting out of a pretty sticky situation," said Springboks skipper John Smit. "There's a bit of work to do but we are pretty delighted with the way this evening went."
Welsh counterpart Sam Warburton said the loss was a big disappointment.
"We were quietly confident all week but just came up short. We played really well but we didn't quite get that victory."
The game started in the worst possible manner for Wales, South Africa piling on the pressure before Morné Steyn flung out a pass to Francois, with the Bok fullback driving his way over Shane Williams and Hook into the corner for a third-minute try the former converted.
But the Welsh then proceeded to dominate proceedings, centre Jamie Roberts back to his block-busting self in midfield.
South Africa were happy to soak up the pressure, Schalk Burger and Heinrich Brüssow producing a series of hard-hitting tackles to enforce an iron grip on their rush defence, and Francois Steyn easing things with his booming punts.
Hook got Wales on the scoreboard with a 10th minute penalty but narrowly missed an easier second penalty, even though he might have reason to complain as the kick did appear to go over.
Morné Steyn made no mistake with his first penalty, however, while Hook also banged over his third effort in the 31st minute.
Steyn and Welsh counterpart Rhys Priestland then both went wide with two ambitious drop goal efforts just before half-time as the pressure told after a tiring first 40 minutes.
The second-half started with Wales again dominating possession and the Springboks seemingly happy to step back and defend.
Hook took Wales to within one point of the Boks with a third successful penalty after Butch James strayed offside in front of his own posts.
And then Wales scored through Tonga-born No 8 Faletau, who crashed over after a neatly slipped pass from Priestland after 53 minutes.
Hook converted to make it 16-10 to the Welsh and the Springboks suddenly looked to be on the rack, missed tackles and handling errors to the fore.
Faletau burst through two tackles and offloaded to Roberts who bullocked his way to the line, only to knock on in the tackle.
But South Africa were not out of it, retaking the lead after replacement wing Hougaard popped up in midfield for a soft try under the posts, converted by Steyn, with 15 minutes to play.
It was not over, however, with Wales having two clear chances to take the lead back and only a second victory in 26 meetings with South Africa.
First Priestland skewed a drop goal from in front of the posts and then Hook went wide with a tricky penalty from wide out.
Tries: Francois Steyn, Francois Hougaard
Conversions: Morné Steyn (2)
Try: Toby Faletau
Conversion: James Hook
Penalties: Hook (3)
15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthro Steenkamp, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Johann Muller, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Butch James
15 James Hook, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Paul James
Substitutes: 16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Bradley Davies, 19 Andy Powell, 20 Tavis Knoyle, 21 Scott Williams, 22 Leigh Halfpenny