Boks win Cardiff farce
South Africa overcame two yellow cards and a number of questionable calls to beat Wales 24-15 in Cardiff on Saturday.
South Africa, scoring three tries to none, beat Wales 24-15 at Millennium Stadium on Saturday in a match that promised more than it deflowered.
Wales had been doing well as a country and as the main body of the victorious B&I Lions in Australia. They were confident. The roof was closed so that the wet weather could play no part.
There were dignified ceremonies beforehand - each captain placing a wreath on the field, a real silence to honour the dead in wars, the Last Post, the choir-backed anthems and the red poppy on the Springboks left sleeves.
But there were spoiling spirits abroad, too.
The surface of the field is still a disgrace. It was in 1999 for the World Cup and still is.
Wales lost. two influential backs in the first 20 minutes - Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies who was having a splendid match. They also lost powerful Adam Jones from their front row. South Africa lost flyhalf Morné Steyn on 17 minutes. Patrick Lambie moved up from fullback and versatile Willie le Roux went to fullback.
There were 26 penalties in the match - against players clearly wanting to play as constructively and adventurously as they could.
That broke the game up. Of those 26 there were 14 at tackles.
The scrums were a mess - 14 scrums with two uncontested scrums, nine collapses, five penalties and yellow cards for two props, one of whom had just come onto the field but was yellowcarded, after being warned that he would be carded, for the problems on that side of the scrum before he arrived.
For Alain Rolland, a great referee who refereed the 2007 World Cup Final, this was his swansong. It was a bad croak.
For all that the first half was a magnificent contest with the promise of even more in the second half, a promise that flopped as the teams kicked so much more.
In that first half Wales, who did not really look like scoring a try in the match, had three excellent opportunities which fizzled our.
Wales kicked off and from a loose pass along the ground Jonathan Davies picked up and burst past four potential tacklers, Flip van der Merwe was penalised at the tackle and Leigh Halfpenny goaled. 3-0 after two minutes. The kick-off put the Springboks in Welsh territory, Halfpenny was penalised at a tackle and Steyn goaled. 3-3 after four minutes.
Wales kicked off again and the Springboks gained little ground in clearing. Again Jonathan Davies broke as he cut inside Jaque Fourie, again somebody was penalised at a tackle and again Halfpenny goaled. 6-3 after 8 minutes.
Wales grubbered down the left and Lambie, still at fullback, came forward, grabbed the ball and set up a ruck. The ball came back to South Africa who, deep in their own half, started running. Bryan Habana got a pass some five metres outside his 22 and he raced on an arc around Richard Hibbard and away from George North. The Welsh defence scrambled and Habana passed infield to Bismarck du Plessis who powered is way ahead before passing to Jean de Villiers on his Left. The pass was behind De Villiers but he pulled it in and was over for a try as three Welshman tried to stop him. 10-6 to the Springboks after 12 minutes.
It was in this action that Liam Williams went off to be checked for possible concussion and Jonathan Davies went off, apparently with an injured shoulder. James Hook and Ashley Beck took their places.
The Springboks mauled a line-out and Gethin Jenkins was penalised. The Springboks kicked out for a five-metre line-out. They mauled and although the Welsh resisted with might and main Du Plessis was able to force his way over the line and spin over to ground the ball clearly and obviously. 17-6 after 17 minutes.
Steyn, who had converted, went off and Le Roux came on.
Two penalties at tackles made the half-time score 17-12 but in that time there were five significant moments.
Perhaps the most significant was Wales going through many phases without being able to make any progress against the adamantine Springboks defence. That was especially significant as the Wales must have lost some heart for the expansive game.
The Springboks made a mess of a maul and Du Preez threw a horrible pass to his left which De Villiers could not gather and instead Beck footed through. Habana got back and saved but the Springboks were penalised for some infringement that was not immediately clear.
With the score at 17-12, the TMO's voice alerted the referee to foul play 'by Green'. The referee played on to a breakdown and then examined the break down. Francois Louw and Hibbard were cross with each other at a tackle. Louw subdued Hibbard with a forearm and continued with his pressure. The referee sent Louw to the sin bin.
Beck had a great break past De Villiers and a Du Preez up-and-under caused problems for Wales. The up-and-under may just have persuaded the Springboks that Wales was vulnerable under the high ball.
The first score of the second half was a penalty goaled by Halfpenny when Frans Malherbe's was penalised at a scrum. 17-15 with 25 minutes to play. Malherbe and Jenkins were then warned that if they collapsed again, both would go to the sin bin. The South African reaction was to replace Malherbe with Coenie Oosthuizen. There was a scrum moments later and the referee warned Oosthuizen that the warning had been against his team and would continue with him. Down the confounded scrum went and Jenkins and Oosthuizen wandered off to the sin bin, an unusual if not bizarre occurrence. The result was uncontested scrum while they were away as, while the Springboks still had Gurthrö Steenkamp to play prop, Wales had no suitably trained replacement.
Uncontested scrums are a blight on the game.
The Springboks had a promising moment when JP Pietersen broke and Eben Etzebeth and Bismarck du Plessis carried it on but Tendai Mtawarira knocked on.
The only other score of the half was both strange and suddenly exciting. Le Roux kicked an up-and Under and Hook knocked it a long way towards the Springboks where Fourie du Preez gathered the ball. He then, left-footed, kicked it down the touchline on his left and he and Fourie chased hard. Rhys Priestland waited for the bouncing ball with Halfpenny in attendance but the perverse thing bounced back to Fourie who immediately got a brilliant little pass to Du Preez. The scrumhalf burst away from Halfpenny for a run over the 22 to the posts. Lambie, who was way off target with two drop attempts, converted. 24-15.
After this lots of changes happened as the players left the bench. There was the delightful arrival of 21-year-old Pieter-Steph du Toit, grandson of Springbok Piet du Toit, to make his debut as a Springbok. And he did it smiling all the way to join his fellow Springboks.
Wales had a chance that was not really convincing. Lambie tried a left-footed diagonal to his left, but the ball sprang free and Sam Warburton grabbed it and was off. Wales went far left and came back battering at the Springboks line, but not convincingly enough to suggest that they would score a try.
Man of the Match: The real candidates were Springboks and while several played well our choice is strong, accurate Bismarck du Plessis.
Moment of the Match: Jean de Villiers's try sparked by that magnificent run by Bryan Habana.
Villain of the Match: Francois Louw. At best his action of stupid.
Pens: Halfpenny 5
For South Africa:
Tries: De Villiers, Du Plessis, Du Preez
Cons: Steyn 2, Lambie
Yellow cards: Francois Louw (South Africa, 35 - foul play, elbow in the throat), Gethin Jenkins (Wales, 58 - repeated scrum infringements), Coenie Oosthuizen (South Africa, 58 - repeated scrum infringements in his position)
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 12 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Justin Tipuric 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 James Hook, 23 Ashley Beck.
South Africa: 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 JJ Engelbrecht, 23 Willie le Roux.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)