South Africa v Wales: Hail the rugby gods as Wales beat the Springboks on home turf for the first time
When I’m writing about a game, I tend to start concocting a narrative as it goes along. Themes develop as the games unfold and they begin to suggest a couple of possible outcomes in even the most closely contested match.
If the match is part of a series, then there is a second, overarching narrative that plays into this. How did the contest develop from the previous outing?
So, you’ll appreciate that I’m in unknown territory here, as South Africa selected an entirely different team to contest a game that’s outcome had seemingly no connection with the flow of play.
I’d tried to create a bit of continuity, myself, by watching the game in the Collier’s, Porth as I had last week. Aptly, as it turned out, there seemed to be an entirely different clientele in for the game‒ I should have taken up Nation Cymru’s offer of a first-class flight to Bloemfontein after all.
The first half seemed to map out the story easily. Wales are vastly improved from the Six Nations but lack the cutting edge to trouble the top sides.
In contact, South Africa were clearly dominant, but Wales were prospering under the high ball, with a resurgent Alex Cuthbert using his height to great effect out wide.
As soon as that thought crystalised, off he went injured, giving way to a heavily-strapped Josh Adams for whom this tour had seemed a washout.
There were positives to note as the half wore on and the Welsh defence looked solid under pressure.
Dan Lydiate reminded us of what a destructive tackler he is when fit and, on the other side of the back row, Tommy Reffell’s jackaling underlined his status as the find of the year.
In attack, however, Wales seemed to offer nothing.
We all screamed that they were too deep during the Six Nations, but now they were slinging the ball frantically from side to side under the onslaught of the South African rush defence.
There hadn’t been a murmur of excitement in the Collier’s as the teams went in deadlocked 3-3 at half time.
It seemed inevitable that the second half would swing towards South Africa, as their physical presence opened up gaps for a backline that looked far livelier than that fielded in Pretoria.
Right enough, as the second half developed, Wales’ defence began to look ever more stretched, and infringements rewarded South Africa with the lead.
Virtually every passage of play seemed to be conducted whilst South Africa had a penalty advantage so the pressure was continually on a Welsh side that continued, somehow, to minimise the damage.
Modern test rugby, however, is a 23 man game and when the replacements started to come on they brought new possibilities with them, except for Alun Wyn Jones.
It’s becoming clear that he sold his soul to the devil for our 2021 Six Nations title, as every subsequent game seems to bring new agonies for our veteran hero.
This time he was shown a yellow card for interfering with a ball he never so much as touched. Can we fly somebody out to perform an exorcism before the final test, please?
As the minutes ticked down, Wales began to try a more expansive approach, with Tomos Williams looking to pass.
Gareth Anscombe put us within a score with a well taken penalty before missing the next one, and it seemed inevitable that the Boks would close out the game.
In the Collier’s all was quiet.
The rugby gods
Throughout the game it had been muted with the odd applause for South African errors underscoring the anticlimactic nature of this week’s game weighed next to the drama in Pretoria.
So, when Josh Adams flew over for a beautifully worked try that left us one behind, a sudden eruption of noise gave way to stunned anxiety as Anscombe teed up a difficult conversion. Even after he put it over, the final couple of minutes were heavy with the expectation that yet another infringement would see Wales lose at the death once again.
Somehow, though, the Welsh scrum held firm as the clock ticked into extra time and concerted pressure forced a fumble from the home side to secure our first ever victory on South African soil.
Nothing about this result made the slightest sense. Perhaps Sir Gareth was right when he intimated that the South Africans had angered the rugby gods with their selection this week. However it happened, we go into the final test with the series alive and a side who have vastly outperformed expectations.
We are forever being implored to learn lessons from the southern hemisphere when it comes to rugby so, in the light of northern hemisphere victories today, I feel I should pay tribute to the southern hemisphere style of journalism by calling for Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina to be removed from the top table of the international game and required to qualify for the World Cup against the Pacific nations.
Be sure to tweet this article at your rugby pals Down Under.
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