In the end it was the Springboks, not the Welsh, who fell flattest in a match that should only be described as a bridge too far for all concerned. Wales got the win they longed for, but not the performance. Neither side were able to conjur a try between them, and the final quarter descended into a farcical contest to see who could make the most egregious error. Willie le Roux might have won if not for Francois Hougaard’s comical intervention.
It made for painful watching, made all the worse by a catastrophic injury to Springbok captain Jean de Villiers just before the hour. Describing it would not do justice to how bad it looked on camera, and suffice to say based on the visual evidence, his age, and the previous damage to that knee, it would be some medical feat to return to rugby at all never mind make the World Cup. With Jaque Fourie’s announcement that he is retiring from international rugby coming just days ago, it’s been a terrible week for the South African midfield.
Heyneke Meyer made no excuses for the loss, merely pointing out that any hope of a recovery was lost when de Villiers went off and Cornal Hendricks was binned a few short minutes later. The yellow card was wholly uncalled for. It’s difficult to see what John Lacey or Graham Hughes thought merited such a sanction, but ultimately it’s come as a result of the IRB dictum that aerial offenses be dealt with harshly.
The idea itself is a good one, but surely Lacey, himself a former outside back, could see that Hendricks always had eyes on the ball and was never intent on damaging Leigh Halfpenny. In fact the Springbok came off worse for wear, holding his wrist while trotting off to the sideline. Eben Etzebeth was judged to have committed a similar foul earlier in the game, and of the two his looked worse, though both looked reasonably fair challenges, certainly worthy of no more than a penalty, if a point must be made.
When le Roux knocked on for the second time late in the match it was clear the players were out on their feet. It was like two punch drunk boxers winging empty gloves at each other. How Gethin Jenkins was still standing after some crunching tackles, sloppy as they were, was a mystery, but so too that it took 75 minutes to replace him. The only other Welsh sub was when Halfpenny came off, still feeling the effects of his own collision with the giant Etzebeth. Why Warren Gatland chose not to use the bench further is anyone’s guess.
The sad thing for the Welsh players is that they’ll now have to go straight back into the new European club competitions, most likely with no break. Hopefully they’ll be afforded some time before the Six Nations or there will be dead men walking at Millenium Stadium in February. At least the Springboks should get a couple weeks off before reporting for preseason duty at their Super Rugby franchises. It’s been a long year, and the next looks even longer.
WALES 12 vs 6 SOUTH AFRICA
Saturday, November 29, 14:30 GMT, Cardiff
03 mins – L. Halfpenny pen 3-0
09 mins – P. Lambie pen 3-3
47 mins – L. Halfpenny pen 6-3
50 mins – P. Lambie pen 6-6
53 mins – L. Halfpenny pen 9-6
57 mins – L. Halfpenny 12-6
63 mins – C. Hendricks yellow (foul play)
L. Halfpenny (S. Williams 67); A. Cuthbert, J. Davies, J. Roberts, L. Williams; D. Biggar, R. Webb; G. Jenkins (A. Jarvis 75), S. Baldwin, S. Lee; J. Ball, A.W. Jones; D. Lydiate, S. Warburton (capt.), T. Faletau.
W. le Roux; C. Hendricks, J. Serfontein, J. de Villiers (capt.) (D. de Allende 57), L. Mvovo; P. Lambie (H. Pollard 57), C. Reinach (F. Hougaard 62); T. Mtawarira (T. Nyakane 54), B. du Plessis (A. Strauss 57), C. Oosthuizen (J. Redelinghuys 70); E. Etzebeth (L. de Jager 69), V. Matfield; M. Coetzee, T. Mohoje (N. Carr 54), D. Vermeulen.
Referee: J. Lacey (IRFU)
Assistants: G. Clancy (IRFU) & J.P. Doyle (RFU)
TMO: G. Hughes (RFU)