Cape Town – South Africa ticked the boxes appropriately for
passion and power, but will also know they fell well short of optimum status in
the precision department.
As it happened: Wales v SA
Yet the stark fact remains that they were still able to see
off Wales, the Six Nations champions, in their own backyard and right at the
end of another gruelling rugby season for the Springbok players, by nine points
in Cardiff on Saturday ... oh yes, and by three tries to nil.
They also extended their lopsided historical stranglehold on
these particular opponents: the Welsh have now only managed to beat the Boks
once in 27 meetings, quite some statistic when you pause to think about it for
a bit longer.
And as is the unfailing norm, a bunch of lamentably
blinkered critics both in the valleys and more broadly in the northern
hemisphere will spout off about how the home side could have, might have,
should have ... etc, etc.
For a while, indeed, this looked like being a perilous night
for the touring side, and it is also true that Wales had generous possession of
the “pill” for healthy periods.
But having the ball is one thing; knowing what to do with it
is quite another.
They quite glaringly lacked the sophistication and composure
to make that advantage count, a phenomenon that has haunted several teams from
north of the equator for many years in the modern era and probably explains why
six of seven World Cups have gone to generally warmer southern climes.
It probably won’t end the culture of denial in Europe, even
if it damned well should.
A massive band of Springbok personnel and supporters will
argue with rightful conviction – even as some Welsh folk doubtless lament how
(yawn) unlucky they themselves believed they were – that our national team
didn’t fire on all cylinders at the Millennium Stadium, and on a cabbage-patch
surface that did no justice to the otherwise majestic venue.
And still, in the immortal words of Boy Louw, “looks at the
Whatever rugby on the day that liberated itself from the
Euro comfort zone of factory-floor bump and grind, came from South Africa, even
as they had to contend also with the quirky officiating of Ireland’s Alain
Let’s not kid ourselves about some of the Welsh hand-to-hand
play: it looked superficially good at times, but only because the lion’s share
of it came in Fancy Dan little forays within their own quarter -- easy enough
to construct while the opposition defence is only in the early process of
fanning itself out to do the necessary.
Just how many times did Wales, however, genuinely threaten
the Bok try-line? (Never mind the fingers of one hand, do you require more than
one finger at all in contemplating the answer?)
The only times they provided real grief to the green and
gold were when the game got pedantic, overly technical and irritatingly
stop-start ... all the traditional feeding troughs for Home Union teams to try
to unpick their end-of-year SANZAR visitors.
The Boks won’t be smug about this performance: they’re a
sober, humble and mature enough bunch these days to realise they made life
difficult for themselves on occasions with their uncharacteristically poor --
or at least indecisive -- first-time tackling and fits of silly indiscipline.
But heck, for their rusty first-time reconvening in a few
weeks, after dispersal to some late-stage Currie Cup duty for many of their
ranks, this still ended up being a broadly satisfying result – in what may yet
prove to have been the most challenging fixture of the three-game tour.
If this was the outcome that defines the success of the
venture collectively, they’re up and running in a big way even as imperfections
of all shapes and sizes clearly need some ironing out.
Truth be told, although Wales have some fair old bruisers
and one or two nifty steppers of their own, whenever the going got truly tough,
and whenever key mini-battles within the greater conflict needed to be won, the
Boks just had too much hunger, polish and muscle.
They gave man of the match to veteran scrumhalf Fourie du
Preez: it said so much about how South Africa collectively laboured to get
beyond third gear – yet were still too good -- that I felt the proven little
genius had a reasonably ordinary first half, actually.
There could be no doubting that he warmed ever more
progressively to his task on the day, though, becoming increasingly the
commanding general of old as the second period wore on and Welsh hopes and
energies were increasingly punctured.
I might have been a tad more inclined to give the mantle to
burly blindside flank Willem Alberts, who was absolutely immense in the first
half when the red-jerseyed foes were friskier, yet repeatedly knocked back in
their aspirations by thunderous, debilitating hits – the Bone Collector was
beautifully to the fore in putting out possible fires.
Back to the drawing board for your bid to knock over the
Boks, Wales ... again.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing