Wales beat Springboks 12-6, end 15 years of hurt
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Wales brought an emphatic end to 15 years of hurt at the hands of South Africa when it triumphed 12-6 at Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
A crowd roar that threatened to lift the closed roof greeted Wales’ first win over the Springboks since 1999, and only the second ever in 108 years.
No matter that the rugby match wasn’t a spectacle, and that it took Leigh Halfpenny’s four penalties to trump Pat Lambie’s two.
Wales finally had the win it so desperately craved, after 22 consecutive failures against the southern hemisphere’s big three, on the six-year anniversary of its last win over a SANZAR team, Australia, on the same turf.
This one was bigger though, not only for the history, but also their next meeting could be in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals in 11 months, and these Welsh players finally know what a win over the Springboks tastes like.
“It doesn’t really feel like a monkey off the back to be honest,” captain Sam Warburton said.
“I always felt it was a matter of when, not if (we’d beat one of the SANZAR teams). It doesn’t feel like a surprise, although it is a career highlight.
“But this has to be the standard now for us. We don’t want this to happen once in a blue moon, and celebrate like we won the World Cup.”
Wales extended its string of heart-breaks this month by losing to the Wallabies after taking a lead into the 72nd minute, and losing to the All Blacks after leading into the 69th. They led late again on Saturday, but they wouldn’t be the Welsh without shredding the nerves of their fans.
With three minutes to go, South Africa had a scrum put-in, five meters out in the right corner. The Boks got a heave on, but Wales messed up the delivery behind the scrum, and Springboks fullback Willie le Roux, under no pressure, knocked on gathering the clearance kick in his own half.
When fulltime arrived, the Welsh pumped their fists, hugged, laughed, and celebrated only the second win over a SANZAR team in seven years under Warren Gatland, their most successful coach in 30 years, but whose credentials were questioned this week for perennial losses to the big guns.
“It’s nice to win, we wounded one of the big beasts,” Gatland said.
“It’s a steppingstone towards what we’re trying to achieve: Our long-term goal is winning the World Cup, and we think we’re good enough to do that.”
For the Springboks, the only team to beat New Zealand in three years, two months ago, the defeat finished the tour and year on a calamitous note.
The lost to Ireland, beat England and Italy, and regarded this as a must-win in their last appearance in Britain before returning for the World Cup.
The result was made even worse by losing captain Jean de Villiers to a dislocated left knee halfway through the second half.
“Losing our captain was a big setback,” South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer said. “Jean has had so many knee injuries. Victor Matfield’s a great leader. But I feel really sorry for Jean. I hope he will be back for the World Cup.”
Misery piled on three minutes later, when they needed to keep their composure. Winger Cornal Hendricks was sin-binned for a reckless jump for a high ball against Halfpenny. Halfpenny didn’t last much longer, but his kicking boot was no longer needed.
The Springboks, who emptied their reserves bench and upped the tempo, regained Hendricks with eight minutes to go but still couldn’t discover the accuracy they lacked from the opening whistle, or unlock a sterling Welsh defense.
Their forwards lost the mano-a-mano battle, losing the ball constantly in tackles. In that regard, Wales prop Gethin Jenkins, flankers Warburton and Dan Lydiate were outstanding. Flyhalf Dan Biggar, safe in the air, tough on the ground, and seemingly everywhere, was a deserved man of the match.
In both halves, Wales began better, and South Africa finished stronger.
Wales, plagued by knock ons, too, tried driving over from lineouts with 13 men, then 12, in the first half. Halfpenny and Lambie kicked penalties in the first 10 minutes, and missed second longer-range shots. Halfpenny also made a try-saving tackle on lock Eben Etzebeth.
In the new half, the goalkickers traded penalties again in the first 10 minutes, but Halfpenny received two more chances, and took them. His fourth successful penalty came after Wales drove the Boks scrum back 10 meters and steepled the fresher front-row. You knew who wanted the win more.