Boks dig deep to beat Wales 29-25

World champions South Africa spoiled a sizzling debut from teenage winger George North to beat Wales 29-25 in a pulsating test at the Millennium stadium on Saturday.

North scored two tries and helped create another but Wales, who led 17-9 at halftime, ran out of gas as the Springboks mounted a strong second-half comeback to follow-up last week’s 23-21 win over Ireland.

Morne Steyn kicked 19 points and Willem Alberts and captain Victor Matfield, on his record 103rd cap, crossed over to further ease the pressure on South Africa coach Peter de Villiers after a miserable Tri-Nations campaign.

Wales have only beaten the Springboks once in 25 meetings since they first met in 1906.

Rarely can a player making his international debut have such an impact as 18-year-old North, who has made just a handful of appearances for club side Scarlets.

After the Springboks kicked a penalty soon after winning turnover ball from the opening kick-off, the 18-year-old North made his mark from Wales’s opening attack.

The hosts signalled their attacking intent after winning a penalty by declining a shot at goal and instead kicking for the corner. Their enterprise was rewarded from the lineout when the ball was spun out for North to burst through a huge gap in the Springboks backline and go over untouched.

North, who is qualified to play for both Wales and England by virtue of an English father and a Welsh mother, had the Millennium stadium crowd on their feet again minutes later as he turned creator for the hosts’ second score.

Taking a pass from Lee Byrne deep in his own half after a kick downfield, North set off on a rampaging run that took him past halfway. Support was quick at hand and after the ball was worked left, a trademark burst from Shane Williams allowed James Hook to go over.

South Africa were stunned, resorting to standing off at rucks to regroup and stem the Welsh onslaught.

Steyn landed a second penalty after Andy Powell was penalised, only for Stephen Jones to make it 17-6 after the Springboks fell foul of not releasing at the tackle.

Despite being outplayed, the world champions ended the half by attacking the Welsh line and Steyn reduced the gap at the break to eight points after referee Steve Walsh handed the Springboks a long advantage before allowing the flyhalf his shot at goal.

Another exchange of penalties after the break signalled a strong spell of South Africa pressure. Winger Bjorn Basson fluffed his lines in the corner after spilling a pass but he was reprieved soon after when replacement forward Willem Alberts barrelled over.

With the momentum finally on their side, South Africa quickly struck again, this time Matfield powering over from three metres.

Undaunted, Wales conjured another moment of magic with Jones kicking crossfield into acres of space in the corner for North to gather and touch down for his second try.

Steyn increased South Africa’s lead again to 29-25 and despite a frantic finale, in which Wales pressed hard through numerous phases into time added on, the Springbok defence held firm. – Reuters

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Justin Palmer
Freelance editor for Metro and Evening Standard. Ex-Reuters. Opinions my own Justin Palmer has over 136 followers on Twitter.

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