For much of the second half, many fans wearing the green and gold of South Africa, would have been down to their knuckles during this nail-biter of a Test match. STYLI CHARALAMBOUS reviews the Boks’ nervous 17-16 win over Wales.
The defending champions started this match intent on sending a message to their Welsh critics who had been condescending in their assessment of the Boks all week. A Francois Steyn try in the corner within three minutes of the start would have had Springbok supporters jumping from their living room couches in delight. After a few robust phases and mini-breaks the burly fullback bulldozed his way over near the corner flag to give the South Africans the lead. A great conversion from Morné Steyn saw the Boks up 7-0 in no time at all.
But if the Boks thought this would be one-way traffic, the Welsh had other plans. From that point on, the Dragons managed to secure possession and the territorial advantage, although they often moved sideways with the ball. The breakdown battle was, as expected, belligerently contested with Heinrich Brüssouw matched in that department by opposite number Sam Warburton. The youngest ever Welsh captain, had a stellar match and managed to cause untold frustration for the Boks that often resulted in penalty infringements. And deserved his Man of the Match award.
Photo: Springboks' Victor Matfield (L) and Pierre Spies (R) tackle Wales' Rhys Priestland during their Rugby World Cup Pool D match at Wellington Regional Stadium in Wellington September 11, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
James Hook kicked those penalties and will be telling stories to his grandkids about the three points he was robbed of in this match, when the touch judges failed to raise their flags for a kick that looked to sail through the uprights. On replay it was shown to just skim the upright. Hook passed the expected examination under the barrage of high balls that South Africa put into the swirling Wellington wind.
Going into the break with the Boks 10-6 up, both sides would have felt the game was there for the taking.
South Africa were a different side with the loss of Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield, either side of halftime. Butch James and Morné Steyn missed some midfield tackles that allowed Wales onto the front foot and Wales never looked threatened in the lineout after the departure of Matfield. The Boks will be sweating over the two injuries that the Boks cannot afford to be long-term.
The early salve of the second half belonged to Wales which, through Jamie Roberts, often broke the advantage line. The Welsh loose forwards were now dominating loose play with Warburton, leading the way. Eventually, the mounting pressure told for the Boks as several near chances for the Welsh were converted into a try for eighthman, Toby Faletau.
Photo: Wales' Toby Faletau tackles Springboks' Frans Steyn (R) during their Rugby World Cup Pool D match at Wellington Regional Stadium in Wellington September 11, 2011. REUTERS/David Gray
With that the Welsh took the lead for the first time to go 16-10 up. The Boks could have hit the panic button, with 25 minutes to go, but instead coach Peter de Villiers hit the substitution button and made good use of the bench laden with heavy forwards. The fresh legs made an impact almost instantly with Bismark du Plessis making a nuisance of himself in the rucks and Willem Alberts showing Pierre Spies how to play tight Test match rugby. Francois Hougaard also came on for Bryan Habana, who continues to wait for his record breaking 39th test try for South Africa. Hougaard was a revelation, injecting much needed speed and creativity every time he touched the ball. After several driving plays by the revitalised forwards, Fourie du Preez slipped a pass to Hougaard who ran beautifully off the ball to score under the posts and give Morné Steyn an easy conversion.
The Boks would hang on for the next 10 minutes to scrape through this epic thriller, winning 17-16. It seems the final scores between these nations seem to be getting closer and closer, with Wales no doubt frustrated that they just aren’t able to seal the deal. Next up for South Africa are pacific islanders of Fiji that will again test the Boks while the physical Samoans will be itching to show Wales their newfound confidence. This pool promises to be the most entertaining, and physical of the lot. DM
For South Africa
Penalties: M. Steyn
Conversions: M. Steyn (2)
Tries: F Steyn, Hougaard
Pens: Hook (3)
South Africa: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villers, 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, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, CJ van der Linde, Johann Muller, Willem Alberts, Francois Hougaard, Butch James
Wales: 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 (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Paul James
Replacements: Lloyd Burns, Ryan Bevington, Bradley Davies, Andy Powell, Tavis Knoyle, Scott Williams, Leigh Halfpenny
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Television match official: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Other RWC Results:
In other results from the weekend, several sides regarded as minnows, gave some of the higher-rated sides a tough time and with one or two upsets looking possible at half-time.
New Zealand battled through against Tonga in a game the All Blacks would be happy to get past without any injuries. The All Black forwards were given a tough time and the form of Richie McCaw continues to worry Kiwi fans. In the end the skilful and attacking back three of the hosts ensured a comfortable victory for New Zealand.
Romania very nearly upset Scotland in Invacargill, and at one stage in the 2nd half led the match. The Romanian forwards kept grinding up front after early scores by the Scots appeared as though a rout was on the cards. Two late Danielli tries ensured the Scots’ victory, but they would have been glad to be wearing the darker shade of shorts instead of the usual white after this match.
Fiji outclassed Namibia at North Harbour Stadium, although the other African team acquitted themselves well at times to keep the final score respectable.
France were subjected to a minor scare by the John Kirwan-coached Japan. After early tries from unforced errors, Japan clawed back into the game to trail 21-25 in the 2nd half. But as with most smaller teams, the tank runs empty after 60 minutes and the French pulled away with a scoreline that flattered in the end.
England trailed Argentina for most of this match, before an individual effort by replacement scrumhalf Ben Youngs, saved the English from embarrassment. The Argentines played a tight brand of rugby and looked to capitalise on numerous English infringements. But poor kicking on the night saw both sides miss too many kicks at goal and the solitary try being the difference on the night. Neither of these teams would be causing play-off opponents sleepless nights, but then again, it was a similar case for England in 2007.
Australia outclassed Italy after the scores were tied at 6-6 at half time. An injection of Bieber, er, O’Connor magic after the break saw the Aussies score 26 points in 20 minutes of play.
Ireland were pushed hard by a USA team mentored by their former coach. The Irish forwards were good in the set pieces and lineouts, but struggled to crack the resilient American defence. In failing to get the bonus point for four tries, Ireland may rue their opening performance tonight and won’t be causing the Wallabies to fret about their encounter just yet.
Results from the Weekend
Wellington: South Africa 17, Wales 16
New Plymouth: Ireland 22, USA 10
North Shore: Australia 32, Italy 6
Dunedin: Argentina 9, England 13
North Shore: France 47, Japan 21
Rotorua: Fiji 49, Namibia 25
Auckland: New Zealand 41, Tonga 10
Main photo: Wales' Jamie Roberts (bottom C) is tackled during their Rugby World Cup Pool D match against South Africa Springboks at Wellington Regional Stadium in Wellington September 11, 2011. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps