The Wales players celebrate victory over South Africa on the final whistle in the rugby Autumn International at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA via AP

The now famous ghost of Cardiff once again came out to haunt the Springboks as they suffered a narrow 24-22 defeat at the hands of Wales at the Principality Stadium yesterday.

It was the third consecutive loss in the past three years the South Africans had slumped to at this venue.

The writing had been on the wall long before this encounter began as Coetzee’s conservative team selections and game-plan had come into question before Wales ripped into them in the opening 10 minutes of the match.

Often under Coetzee, the two-time world champions have looked scared to play with ball in hand, apprehensive to back their own abilities and trying to play too much according to the script and that has often been their undoing in very much the same way proceedings quickly unravelled yesterday.

The Springboks were shaken to the core by the Welsh blitzkrieg which was marshalled by their flyhalf general Dan Biggar who artfully found acres of space between fullback-turned-wing Warrick Gelant and Andries Coetzee.

Those two kick passes which were well fielded by Hallam Amos opened up the sluice gates for the hosts as they scored two tries, the first to centre Scott Williams in the 5th minute before debutant and former Southern Kings centre Hadleigh Parks crashed over three minutes later.

Just as they were at the beginning of Coetzee’s reign last year and the end-of-year tour as well, the Springboks were rattled and seemingly stuck at sea as their inept backline was again found wanting on defence with both of the Welsh tries coming off first phase ball.

The South Africans’ biggest strength has always been their ability to bully opposition at the set-piece and that is how they went about their recovery, starting with an annihilation of the Welsh scrum before turning to the rolling maul.

But the Springboks biggest Achilles heel in the past two years has been them believing their own hype in the same manner that they refused to take the three points on offer during this game and overreached by trying to rumble their way over the try-line.

It was in playing too much rugby especially in the wrong half of the field that the Springboks were again found wanting with Andries Coetzee’s kick charged down for flank Taulupe Faletau to gather and pass to Parkes for his second try.

Again, the thought of another embarrassing defeat seemed to sparked the Boks into action and in an unfamiliar and probably desperate attack, the visiting backs managed to get the ball through the hands before Jesse Kriel punted the ball for Gelant to outstrip the Welsh defence and score.

That was the glimmer of hope the Boks needed and it was just reward for their forwards who had toiled tirelessly in gaining an ascendancy in the scrums, lineouts, mauls and even at the breakdown.

The Boks completed the comeback through two tries from Handre Pollard and Jesse Kriel as they continued to apply pressure on a understrength Welsh side that had retreated into survival mode.

But again the Boks failed to kick on and use their dominance to close out the game.

It was in the visitors’ inability to land the fatal blow that Wales found their voice and in their desperation to claim a southern hemisphere scalp after coming short against the All Blacks and Wallabies in recent weeks, it was veteran fullback Leigh Halfpenny who slotted over the winning penalty with 12 minutes left.

The Springboks had enough time to steal what should have been an academic victory to close off their season on a high but they became their own worst enemy by cheaply conceding possession and making elementary errors. And as captain Eben Etzebeth watched helplessly from the sidelines after injuring his arm in the latter parts of the first half, it was with the same painful look that many Bok fans have worn on their faces as Coetzee went into self-destruct mode after being handed a stay of execution in the aftermath of last year’s disaster.

That ghost of Cardiff once again spooked the Springboks into defeat and in the process all but confirmed that Allister Coetzee is a dead man walking.

Sunday Tribune

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