Springbok power tells in Cardiff
November 13, 2010
Bismarck du Plessis powers forward for South Africa
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A powerful second-half comeback denied Wales only their second win over South Africa, the Springboks scraping home 29-25 at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Debutant Wales winger George North had looked set to enjoy a dream debut after scoring a try with almost his first touch of the game and while a James Hook five-pointer gave the home side a 17-9 lead at the break the South African forwards emerged as a renewed force in the second-half.
Sharks lock Willem Alberts and skipper Victor Matfield, who broke the Springbok appearances record by winning his 103rd cap, scored twice before North's second provided hope for Wales - a glimmer that was eventually extinguished by a Herculean defensive effort from Peter De Villiers' side deep into injury time.
Fly-half Morne Steyn booted 19 points for South Africa as the penalty count got the better of Wales but was again withdrawn with the game in the balance in favour of the exuberant Sharks youngster Patrick Lambie.
Wales were forced into a late reshuffle just before kick-off as loose-head Gethin Jenkins and flanker Dan Lydiate were replaced by Paul James and Andy Powell due to injury and their momentum was further disrupted when talismanic winger Shane Williams failed to emerge for the second-half due to a shoulder problem.
Wales fell behind early to the boot of Steyn but showed positive intent to bite back in style through North. Having turned down a kickable penalty in favour of touch they piled forward in the wake of a surge from skipper Matthew Rees and a nifty short ball from Stephen Jones into midfield sent North across the whitewash without a hand being laid upon him.
Jones added the conversion among protestations from South Africa about Tom Shanklin's angle in the build-up and the visitors soon missed out on two gilt-edged opportunities as Gio Aplon was stopped short after an enterprising dart and Steyn missed a simple shot at goal.
North's dream debut continued as his burst along the touchline set in motion a brilliant try for Hook. The Scarlets youngster collected the ball from Lee Byrne in his 22 and sparked chaos by setting off along the flank, South Africa failing to react as the ball was shipped infield to allow Williams to break clear and send his centre over under the posts. Jones' conversion was a simple one but Wales handed three points back to Steyn when Powell was penalised for going off his feet.
In the absence of injured wing Leigh Halfpenny, Hook stepped up to take a long range penalty and narrowly missed the mark. Jones fared better from closer range to extend the advantage to 17-6 as the half-hour mark approached and an increasingly ragged Springbok side was spared further hurt by a forward pass in the build-up to a Hook break.
South Africa closed the gap to 17-9 with Steyn's third penalty just before the break but were left to rue a major missed opportunity. Repeated infringements from the home side had failed to stem the tide of green shirts but when the ball was spun wide to Bryan Habana the winger endured an uncharacteristic lapse, failing to release Aplon with the line at his mercy.
Wales emerged without Williams for the second-half after the winger landed heavily on his shoulder but extended their lead with a Jones penalty following some marvellous interplay between Powell and Martyn Williams.
Byrne's failure to roll away moments later gifted the points back and South Africa ground through the gears to put Wales under major pressure. Phase after phase of attack was repelled before a gaping overlap opened out wide, where Bjorn Basson was a certainty to score until he lost his footing, and the ball. Any South African tears were put on hold though as they came back stronger from a lineout - debutant Alberts powering through the tackle of Chris Czekaj.
Wales continued to unravel as turnover ball again proved to be their undoing. It was Matfield that profited on this occasion, the giant lock fixing the home defence in an identical manner to Alberts to allow Steyn a simple conversion. With the Millennium Stadium deathly quiet following a well-known turn of events Wales conjured another plot-twist. Alun-Wyn Jones pounced on a loose ball to give the home side territory and after an earlier failed attempt Jones found his range with a cross-field kick, one that was snaffled by a gleeful North in the corner.
Jones missed the conversion from the touchline but Steyn held his nerve to open up a handy four-point lead on 64 minutes when Wales were warned about repeated forays across the offside line.
A Shanklin burst threatened to regain the lead for Wales ever so briefly but an energy-sapping maul from South Africa had those in red shirts gasping for air as the final moments approached. A series of penalties deep in South African territory offered hope for the home fans but the visitors dug deep and produced hit after hit, Aplon levelling North before the ball snaked loose from a ruck to end proceedings with a collective sigh from the Welsh support, who are familiar with the taste of disappointment against the Springboks.
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Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.