Boks withstand late Welsh charge

World champions South Africa withstood a late onslaught to beat Wales 20-15 in their opening autumn international at the Millennium Stadium here on Saturday.

The Springboks, boasting eight of their 2007 World Cup final-winning team, scored two tries through Adrian Jacobs and Jean de Villiers, with Ruan Pienaar hitting two penalties and two conversions for a result that was ultimately far more comfortable than the 20-15 scoreline indicated.

Wales, who floundered on a rock-solid South African defence and dominance in the loose, failed to cross the Springbok whitewash, notching up five penalties through debutant Leigh Halfpenny and James Hook (4).

The countries have now met on 23 occasions over 104 years of competition—including four times in the last 12 months, with South Africa leading the series 21-1, with one draw. Wales’ sole victory came in 1999.

After a frenetic first five minutes in which Pienaar peppered the Welsh back three with some searching up-and-unders, the pressure paid off, with impressive flanker Juan Smith and captain John Smit—playing
in an unusual position of prop rather than hooker—both going close.

Jacobs finally crashed over the line after latching onto a pop pass from scrumhalf Fourie du Preez. Pienaar kicked the conversion and added a penalty just a minute later to hand the visitors a 10-0 lead.

The first whiff of a Welsh attack came from Wales’ debutant number eight and man of the match Andy Powell after 20 minutes, breaking clear of a ruck for a 30m run before being hauled down.

Stephen Jones skewed a penalty attempt after the Springboks infringed in the ensuing phases, but Wales finally got on the scoreboard with a penalty from winger Halfpenny after the Boks held on in the tackle.

Tom Shanklin and Halfpenny were then on hand to knock the ball out of Pienaar’s hands as he crashed over the line after some slick handling from Schalk Burger and Victor Matfield had set up an overlap out wide.

Pienaar was back on the mark for a second penalty in the 36th minute but Halfpenny could only drag his second effort wide at the stroke of half-time.

Wales, driven by full-back Lee Byrne and Halfpenny, opened the second period seemingly out to provide some more attacking rugby.

Almost immediately, Byrne retrieved his own kick-and-chase into the Bok 22 but Gethin Jenkins was swallowed up.

Halfpenny then pounced on a misdirected pass and escaped the cover to offload to Shanklin, who was forced to grubber ahead under pressure from the fast-retreating Bok number eight Pierre Spies.

JP Pietersen was called on to produce a try-saving tackle after Byrne had been put through a gap and offloaded to Halfpenny with the line at the teenager’s mercy.

And the nail in Wales’ coffin came when the Boks hit back through De Villiers’ converted intercept try, the centre picking off a lofted pass from Hook, who had just come on as a replacement for Stephen Jones.

But the home side would not lie down and Hook hit three penalties in a matter of minutes after the Boks infringed under wave after wave of attack.

With Bok replacement Jacque Fourie sin-binned just seconds after he came on, Wales took the game to South Africa but the visitors seemed confident in their defensive prowess and the hard-hitting turnover ability of flankers Burger and Smith.

Hook hit his fourth penalty in the 73rd minute to pull Wales back to 20-15.

A tense final few minutes concluded when the ubiquitous Smith pinched a Welsh line-out ball to ensure a 10th successive victory for South Africa over Wales. - AFP

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