Boks snatch victory

2014-06-21 23:00

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Hymns and arias would have turned to wails of anguish in the valleys of Wales yesterday as the Springboks denied Alun Wyn Jones’ men what would have been a famous victory in the cruellest of ways at the Mbombela Stadium.

Wales seemed to be well set for their first victory on South African soil, but instead of an outpouring of Max Boyce’s famous anthem emanating from the smattering of Welsh fans in a disappointingly sparse crowd, the Welsh were left shattered. The Springboks snatched victory thanks to a penalty try, their second of the match, awarded by referee Steve Walsh.

It could be argued it is the mark of a good side that the Boks were able to mount the fightback to cut the lead and give themselves a chance to get a win by scoring a late converted try, but you couldn’t help but feel pity for a Welsh side who had played their hearts out.

With Flip van der Merwe having been yellow-carded and time seeping away, the Boks produced their best passage of a poor performance to get Willie le Roux over to give them a chance. A strong scrum then produced the penalty that Morné Steyn kicked to touch. Instead of the usual line-out drive, the Boks let the backs have the ball and Cornal Hendricks was sent hurtling for the corner.

But he was smashed into touch by fullback Liam Williams – illegally as it turned out. Williams hit Hendricks with his shoulder without using his arms, and after a long consultation with the TMO, Walsh provided joy and despair in equal measure as he trotted to the posts to award a penalty try.

With the Springboks as sluggish and disorganised as the traffic around the stadium, the Welsh started with serious intent and silenced the crowd as they shot to a 17-0 lead.

In contrast to the first test in Durban, where they allowed themselves to be bullied, the Welsh worked hard to bring the Boks to ground and when they did

get the ball, they made a concerted effort to get powerful Jamie Roberts into the action or to spin it wide to their big wings.

And the visitors’ determination paid off as they wrested positional dominance in the Springbok half to present fly half Dan Biggar the opportunity to open the score with a penalty before jolting the Boks with a pair of tries in the space of three minutes.

George North came in off the left wing to crash through the middle before passing to Roberts, who went over the line right under the crossbar. A bad slip-up by Steyn, who completely missed a bouncing ball, allowed Wales the bridgehead to strike again, with big Alex Cuthbert forcing his way over to cap an opening quarter in which the Boks had been outplayed.

The match was turned on its head soon afterwards but when Walsh carded Luke Charteris and Dan Biggar in quick succession, the tempo of the match changed and enabled the Boks to get two tries before the break – scores which proved vital given the controversial and dramatic way the test ended.

“My voice is gone from all the screaming,” quipped Meyer when he spoke to the media last night. “We need games like this because that is what you’ll get in the World Cup. The guys showed their character, they kept their heads and found a way to win.”

Tellingly, though, Meyer added: “I am worried about the players’ [fitness]. I have never seen the guys so tired at this point of the season.”

Victor Matfield also lauded his team for getting winning a game that seemed lost. “[That] we defended at the end after we had taken the lead without conceding a penalty in our own half says a lot about the spirit in the team.”

Wales coach Warren Gatland described his team’s late defeat as “probably the worst loss” of his life. “I’m pretty gutted and the guys are pretty gutted. But I am proud of the guys for the way they came back after the first test.”

Gatland and his management team kept a dignified façade, refusing to criticise the referee.

“There has been a lot of debate [about it] but I have no problem with it. We’re disappointed that George North got too narrow to allow the winger through and the referee saw it as a shoulder charge from Liam Williams. Liam is obviously upset and has apologised to the boys but he’ll learn from the experience.

“The question might be asked whether there was absolute clarity that he [Cornal Hendricks] would have scored but you can’t change the decision. In fact, I’d rather he scored the try so that the conversion would have been from touch!”

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