South Africa (14) 31
Tries: Penalty tries (2), Hendricks, Le Roux; Conversions: Steyn (4); Penalty: Steyn
Wales (17) 30
Tries: Roberts, Cuthbert, Owens; Conversions: Biggar (3); Penalties: Biggar (3)
Nail-biter in Nelspruit! That’s the description that best describes what transpired here On Saturday in the second Test against Wales.
The Boks may have come out on top, avoiding what would have been just a second ever defeat by Wales, but, boy, did they make hard work of it!
Heyneke Meyer’s men were well below the standards they achieved in Durban in the first Test and they can thank their lucky stars that they got out of this one. The Boks never got close to bossing this contest, as they’d done a week before, but let’s give them credit for fighting to the very last minute after what was a poor performance.
Wales will be kicking themselves for letting a golden chance slip away. They were by far the better team on the day, but ill-discipline cost them dearly.
There will also be plenty of talking today about referee Steve Walsh and his officiating team for their handling of the game – and those discussions will be in both camps. The Welsh, though, will feel hard-done by especially, even if the calls against them were probably the right ones.
The Boks trailed their opponents throughout the contest and took the lead only in the 78th minute – and it was enough to see the hosts to victory. Walsh and his team awarded a penalty try to the Boks after Cornal Hendricks was shoulder-charged by Liam Williams in the process of scoring a try, with Morné Steyn’s conversion giving the hosts a one-point lead which they hung onto till the end.
It was the second penalty try Walsh awarded to the Boks, the first coming after 30 minutes when Wales had taken a firm grip on the contest. Tries inside the first half hour by Jamie Roberts and Alex Cuthbert shook the Boks as the visitors raced into a 17-0 lead. But Luke Charteris was sin-binned in the 30th minute, after he’d infringed in the driving maul, and Walsh had no option but to give the Boks the try under the posts.
Two minutes later Dan Biggar also saw yellow and with Wales down to 13 men, the Boks scored a second converted try, this time by wing Hendricks. It was a stunning touchdown, started by JP Pietersen deep in Bok territory, and in which Willie le Roux played a big part.
The Boks got somewhat lucky in a first half Meyer will not want to see again by his team. They lost the collisions, were ill-disciplined, knocked the ball and handed all the momentum to their opponents. It was far from the step up Meyer wanted; in fact, the Boks took several steps backwards.
Wales dominated the territorial game, pinning the Boks in their half, and they also controlled the majority of the possession. It was simply an unbelievably bad showing by Meyer’s men.
But just when it seemed the half-time break had come at the right time and the Boks would kick on in the second period, they conceded a third try, to hooker Ken Owens, and by the 60th minute the Boks had also lost Flip van der Merwe to the sin-bin for infringing at a restart.
By the time the clock ticked over to 14 minutes remaining, the Boks trailed by 13 points and they were staring down the barrel. If it stayed that way no one would have denied Wales their day in the sun, but rugby matches last for 80 minutes and the Boks finished the stronger of the teams – and hats off to them for that.
Le Roux, who was well below the standards he set himself the week before, got better and better as the game went on and he certainly asked questions of the Welsh defence but it was his try in the 72nd minute that allowed the Boks to believe they could pull this one out of the hat.
The late penalty try sealed Wales’ fate.