Wales went in to the final test match in South Africa needing a vast improvement in order to gain their first win on South African soil.
However the Boks were sure to be fired up on the occasion of Victor Matfield's 112th cap. That personal highlight meant he surpasses former captain, John Smit, as South Africa's most capped player ever. A magnificent achievement, from a magnificent player.
The Welsh started positively with some strong defence which forced South African handling errors. Scrum half, Mike Phillips, made two trademark breaks which were not fruitful. However this attacking intent was already a big improvement from the first test match.
After three minutes fly half, Dan Biggar, had the chance to put Wales 3-0 up from a penalty. But he missed. Would it come back to haunt Wales?
Biggar quickly forgot that miss and put Wales 3-0 up after Jannie du Plessis was penalised.
Morne Steyn then missed a kick and Willie le Roux knocked on to give Wales a scrum. These errors were gifting Wales territory and possession. Biggar was able to feed Alex Cuthbert who broke the South African line and passed to Jamie Roberts who was able to score. Dan Biggar then converted and Wales were 10 up after nineteen minutes.
Wales were using their strike runners impressively. Taulupe Faletau, Jamie Roberts and Cuthbert were regularly getting over the gain line. A number of phases were put together, retaining the ball well and Cuthbert was able to score. Biggar converted to make it 17 0 after twenty-two minutes.
Cuthbert is a huge figure of a man, especially for a winger. With searing speed and good foot work, he was having a strong game.
South Africa were in disarray due to Wales's immense start. However on 28 minutes they won a penalty which was kicked to touch and they played to their strengths. A driving maul was formed and penalty won. Luke Charteris was yellow carded.
Two further line-outs were taken. Dan Biggar also saw yellow after taking the maul down illegally and a penalty try was awarded. Wales were down to thirteen men but 7-17 up and holding on.
On thirty-three minutes Wales cleared deep in to South African territory. There appeared to be no danger. Yet another maul ensued. Swift hands and no mistake put JP Pietersen in, he broke well going almost the entire length of the pitch and fed Cornal Hendricks who scored. The Boks were ruthless in exploiting their numerical advantage and were now 14-17 down.
The half time whistle went with Wales three points to the good. They had played an almost perfect twenty-five minutes. Retaining the ball well, getting their strike runners over the gain line, creating momentum and converting their chances.
South Africa however were poor. Handling errors, balls lost in contact and high balls being spilt was costing them territory, possession and inevitably on the score board. Their class and experience did show through though, using their historically successful driving maul. Which Wales had no answer to.
After forty-three minutes Biggar returned to the field of play and Wales were back to fifteen men. Just a minute later the Welsh kicked a penalty to touch, won the line-out and built yet more pressure. Ken Owens dived over and the television match official agreed that he had scored. 14-24 Wales.
It was noticeable that every time Wales had the ball in the South Africa 22, they came away with points. Be it three, five or seven. The sign of a good and ruthless team.
Steyn and Biggar then traded penalties. 17-27 Wales after 56 minutes. Then after 57 minutes Flip van der Merwe was yellow carded after dangerous play but it could easily have been red.
Wales then strung some more phases together, retaining possession well and handling the ball efficiently. Another scrum led to a Wales penalty. Another yellow card should have followed, Biggar, though, kicked the penalty. 17-30 Wales after 64 minutes. With sixteen minutes left, were Wales on the verge of their first win on South African soil for 107 years?
SOUTH AFRICA'S RESURGENCE
The Boks came surging back at Wales and applied pressure. Several phases of play followed. World class full back Willie le Roux, who had been non existent during the match, spotted a mismatch in the Welsh midfield and ghosted past Owens, to score.
Steyn kicked a penalty to touch on 76 minutes and a driving maul followed. Width was put on the ball and JP Pietersen fed Cornal Hendricks who went past George North. Liam Williams was the last defender and after going to the TMO, Steve Walsh awarded, correctly, a penalty try. Williams had not used his arms and proceeded to tackle Hendricks dangerously. 31-30 South Africa.
Two drop goal attempts from Biggar showed a desperation and lack of experience. The chances were from too far out and more phases should have been built. The chance had gone.
Wales had come so close, again. They cut out their handling errors, utilized their backs and strong ball carriers and took the points when they had the chance. But if you are being brutally honest, Biggar missed a kick that would have won Wales the game. The best teams win when not at their best and if they have chances they take them, no questions asked.
South Africa were poor but took their chances. They played to their strengths and the class and experience showed. They won the test match and the series with it.
If Wales want to be considered as contenders for any future World Cups, they have to start winning these games.
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