Bok win over Wales a ‘bit close for comfort’

2008-11-09 00:00

It was a bit close for comfort, but South Africa’s 20-15 win over Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday was a satisfactory performance from several different perspectives.

Skipper John Smit pronounced himself satisfied with his first Test match start at tighthead prop, and while he is not going to celebrate prematurely, the experiment was at least successful enough to prevent his switch from becoming an issue in the build-up to the England clash.

On Saturday night, however, he seemed to be tacitly admitting that he could face a far sterner test against Andy Sheridan at Twickenham than from Gethin Jenkins in Cardiff.

“I think it went nicely for a first-time start at this level and I have my team-mates to thank for the help they gave me,” Smit said.

“It was satisfactory considering I have not played for a while. In a sense, I am only starting my new season now and am definitely not fully match fit, so it was good I felt so comfortable.

“But tighthead is a very difficult position … if you start thinking you have it taped, you could be in for a shock. It was only one game, and all opponents you face as a tighthead have different styles and strengths and pose different challenges.”

Coach Peter de Villiers was delighted with Smit’s start, as he was with the first flyhalf start for Ruan Pienaar, who would have come close to being Springbok Man-of-the-Match for his controlling role with his tactical kicking.

“John and Ruan are both excellent players and that is why I did not get too concerned about the fuss that was made when they were selected,” said De Villiers.

He might, though, have made more of the type of game employed by his charges, for this was a day where the Boks made it clear that the intention to go back to the percentage game that won them the World Cup is more than just talk.

The Boks turned in a compelling first half where they controlled the match to the extent that it was impossible to think there might be another winner. That this changed later was probably due to a few factors, among them the decision to make substitutions after Jean de Villiers scored his intercept try.

Smit also admitted that the try might also have prompted his men to sit on their laurels, rather than pressing on for a bigger win.

It did seem in the last quarter that the Boks were content to do a holding job, and it nearly came back to bite them as Welsh goalkicker James Hook brought his side back into it with four penalties.

“I think we were guilty of taking our foot off the pedal in the last 20 minutes. Jean’s try, which was a lucky break for us at the time, put us into a lead which made us feel very comfortable, and we were perhaps guilty of trying to sit on what was really quite a small lead,” said Smit.

The captain said the Boks had “not quite been on the button” with a few of the things they intended to do, but agreed that Wales have improved significantly and their defensive effort prevented the Boks from imposing their will on proceedings.

“We did score two tries to nil in this match and it was our third win over Wales this year in three starts, so I am reasonably satisfied with what we have achieved,” said Smit in response to Welsh coach Warren Gatland’s view that the better team had lost.

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