Boks flirt with defeat by Welsh

2010-11-15 00:00

THE Springboks made mistakes on and off the field and dragged their supporters kicking and screaming through another agonising Saturday evening before emerging with a 29-25 win over a feisty Welsh side at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

The Springboks, disjointed and lacking the intensity of Dublin the previous week, produced a dreadful first half.

They hung back in defence, missed tackles and were sluggish in chasing kicks as the Welshmen punished them with two early tries and a 17-6 lead midway through the first half.

The 18-year-old Welsh wing George North took just five minutes to score on debut as he nipped through the Bok midfield for a try.

South Africans bellowed obstruction, but the Welsh saw the try as a product of slick passing and off-the-ball running.

The second try came from a rousing Welsh counter-attack from their own 22-metre line as the Boks failed to chase down a long kick.

Wing Shane Williams raced clear and centre James Hook took the inside to canter over (14-3).

Flyhalf Morné Steyn kept the Boks in touch with three first-half penalties and they were back in touch, on the scoreboard anyway, at the break (17-9).

Stephen Jones, on the re-start, immediately kicked his second penalty to provide the Welsh with an 11-point advantage, but the Boks showed far more purpose and resolve as they kept the ball in hand and started playing their rugby in the faces of the Welsh.

Two players celebrating special occasions, debutant flank Willem Alberts and captain Victor Matfield, fittingly scored impressive tries.

With Steyn adding both conversions and adding a couple more penalties — he succeeded with seven out of his eight kicks at goal — the Boks had their noses in front after 50 minutes.

The Boks had their lead cut to one when Steyn had his clearance charged down and Welsh flyhalf Jones’s superb kick to the corner provided North with his second try.

Jones missed the angled conversion (26-25) and the Boks then went four points clear when Steyn goaled his fifth penlty (29-25).

The Welsh needed a try in the last 12 minutes to win, but with their forwards increasingly involved and dominating play the Boks appeared in charge.

But, as is their wont, their coaching staff again went walkabout, making unnecessary changes and allowing the Welsh and their singing, cheering, chanting crowd back into the Test.

Two earlier substitutions, made for specific reasons, certainly worked for the Boks with Alberts, on for Deon Stegmann early in the second half, and Francois Hougaard, replacing scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar for the last quarter, adding energy and purpose.

Again coach Peter de Villiers (or assistant Dick Muir) opted to switch flyhalves — Pat Lambie on for Steyn — with the Test hanging on a potential penalty and at a time when the forwards were losing their control because of changes made in the pack.

So it came to pass that Lambie spent the uncomfortable final moments of a Test making tackle after tackle with little time, and no possession, to play a role on attack.

Coach De Villiers, if he wants to expose Lambie at this level, should start with the young flyhalf rather than toss him into the frontline when a Test match is teetering in the balance.

It was the switch at hooker which almost cost the Springboks this Test with the unfortunate Chiliboy Ralepelle, who has spent most of his Test career playing only token bit parts in the closing minutes of internationals.

He took over from the combative Bismarck du Plessis in the closing 10 minutes and promptly missed his jumpers with successive midfield lineou­t throws.

The direct result was that the Boks, who should have been closing out the Test, spent the rest of the evening scrambling about defending their line as the Welsh went searching for a winning try.

Ralepelle certainly played his part in the brave Bok defensive effort in those final minutes, but the change at hooker certainly placed the Boks under massive pressure as the coaches went out to fix something that was working smoothly.

No one played a more important role in the last-ditch defence than the slightly-built fullback Gio Aplon, who made a series of crucial tackles as the Welsh threatened.

The Boks were mightily relieved to hear the final whistle and will take heart from the fact that they played badly away from home and still won.

They will also have been lifted by the individual performances of Aplon, Alberts, Hougaard and a rejuvenated Pierre Spies.

SCORERS

Wales — Tries: George North (2), James Hook. Conversions: Stephen Jones (2). Penalties: Jones (2).

South Africa — Try: Willem Alberts, Victor Matfield. Conversions: Morné Steyn (2). Penalties: Morné Steyn (5).

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