Character of Boks lauded

2014-06-22 15:00
Cornal Hendricks and Willie le Roux (Gallo Images)

Mbombela - South Africa's one-point victory over Wales in Mbombela on Saturday was anything but pretty, while it could also be described as "the great escape".

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, nevertheless, labelled the victory his best yet as his charges kept calm despite staring down the barrel of a gun to claim a hard-fought win.

"I applaud the character of this team - we never panicked, even at half-time, and at the end I believed we would pull it through," Meyer said after the match.

"Obviously you need some luck as well ... we still scored four tries and, in the end, I'll take the win.

"You need games like this before the Rugby Championships, to grind out a win and stay positive. So I'm happy with the team."

The Welsh certainly tested the Springboks' resolve as they took the lead in the 13th minute via a penalty conversion, and the hosts were left to clinch victory only in the 79th minute.

Two of the Springboks' five-pointers were thanks to penalty tries.

The Welsh, on the other hand, received two yellow cards within minutes of each other in the first half.

Trailing by 13 points with little over eight minutes left in the match, the Springboks were facing their first defeat to Wales on South African soil.

Springbok fullback Willie le Roux, however, sparked a magnificent fightback when he crossed the whitewash for a converted try in the 72nd minute.

His try set up a dramatic finish which saw match referee Steve Walsh award a second penalty try two minutes from time after Springbok wing Cornal Hendricks' charge to the line was thwarted by Welsh fullback Liam Williams.

His tackle was referred to the television match official, and it was adjudged that Williams had taken Hendricks out of play illegally through a shoulder charge.

South Africa was awarded a penalty try, which flyhalf Morné Steyn converted for the winning points.

Wales' coach Warren Gatland was gracious in defeat, despite losing the Test in a heartbreaking manner, and accepted the referee's decision.

"There's been a lot of debate about that and I have no problem with that decision.

"Some people said there is no guarantee that he (Hendricks) would have scored the try," Gatland said.

"It could have been a penalty and a yellow card. In the end, I would have preferred they had scored the try and kicked the conversion from the side line."

Gatland said his team was "gutted" following the defeat but he believed the close contest indicated that his side was making gains on southern hemisphere powerhouses Australia and South Africa.

"We know if we get the bounce of the ball, and a couple of things go our way, that we are good enough to compete with the top teams in the world," he said.

"We are probably a bit off New Zealand at the moment but particularly close to Australia and South Africa in the last few years.

"But it's just getting over the line and making sure you get that elusive victory over the southern hemisphere team and then mentally it just changes that whole focus."

The Springboks will now face a different challenge when they take on Scotland next week, and with seven players based in France and England being released to their clubs the team could look slightly different to the one that has played in the past three weeks.

Junior Springbok captain and flyhalf Handré Pollard has been called up to the Springbok squad, and with incumbent flyhalf Steyn one of the players released from the squad the youngster could make his senior debut in Port Elizabeth next week.



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