The Boks didn’t win … the Welsh lost

2011-09-12 00:00

THEY were outplayed, out-thought and over there, but the world champion South Africans somehow still contrived to beat the Welsh 17-16 in their Rugby World Cup opener in Wellington yesterday.

The Springboks produced precious little on the day — about 10 minutes of controlled rugby spread over two halves — but they did fashion two tries and this was just enough to see off the Welsh.

A rousing start saw a more streamlined fullback Frans Steyn score the first try and replacement wing Francois Hougaard scored the match-winning second, but the Boks spent the rest of this contest keeping the Welsh at bay and South Africans on the edge of their seats.

It was a result which Welsh coach Warren Gatland will find particularly galling after he had told the world in midweek that the “Springboks play no rugby”.

On the day he was proved right, but his team were just not ruthless enough to take advantage. What was worrying was that the Springboks revealed little on attack and failed even to chase their kicks with any enthusiasm or organisation.

The Welsh, in contrast, made most of the running and were impressive in controlling their possession through the phases.

They also had the advantage of a strengthening wind in the second half and kept the fumbling Boks deep in their own half for long periods.

It was, in the end, a Test which the Welsh, with 60% territory and field position, lost rather than the Springboks won.

And no one can claim that luck did not play a part as a James Hook penalty which looked good on television evidence was waved away by the assistant referees. The Welsh also missed kicks in the closing minutes that would have won the Test, with Welsh flyhalf Rhys Priestland wide with the simplest of drops from straight in front; and Hook fluffing a penalty attempt.

The Springboks were saved by the tireless defensive efforts of flanks Schalk Burger and Heinrich Brüssow and, in the closing quarter, by their bench.

Bismarck du Plessis, replacing captain John Smit, and Hougaard made decisive contributions in the final quarter, while Willem Alberts was also far more influential than the largely anonymous Pierre Spies.

Smit, to his enormous credit, praised the efforts of Bismarck du Plessis after the game, and coach Peter de Villiers will be under increasing pressure in the days ahead to cast sentiment aside in his selection.

De Villiers also selected unfit players for the opener and lock Victor Matfield and wing Bryan Habana, who have both been nursing hamstring injuries, were replaced.

Jean de Villiers (ribs) was another to leave the field and his injury could open the door for Pat Lambie to play either at fullback (with Frans Steyn moving into the midfield) or at centre.

The outstanding players on the day were on the Welsh side with their superb flank, Sam Warburton, enjoying himself at the breakdown and centre Jamie Roberts constantly challenging the Bok midfield.

The silver lining for the Springboks was provided by their defence, which leaked just one try in spite of Wales’s abundance of possession and many attacking opportunities.

The Boks were mightily relieved to nip out the back door with the booty, but they will have to revise both their approach and selection if they are to mount a spirited defence of their World Cup title.

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