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Jesse Kriel inspires South Africa to emphatic victory against Wales
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Jesse Kriel inspires South Africa to emphatic victory against Wales

During his side’s run to the 2019 World Cup title, Rassie Erasmus emphasised the physical threat that Wales possessed. “They’re not softies,” he said, suggesting there is some inherent toughness found in the valleys and old coal-mining towns. This might be an unfamiliar Welsh side, one with a forward pack that has as much combined Test experience as Eben Etzebeth, but they demonstrated the virtues that Erasmus had lauded five years ago.

Wales lost this match by a distance, conceding five tries and scoring just one. But their green players can be proud of their performance against a team that included 15 members of the squad that triumphed in France last year.

The double world champions were disjointed for large parts of the contest, and were curtailed by a disappointing debut by Jordan Hendrikse at fly-half, but their task was made difficult by the inexperienced Welsh who challenged at the lineout, battled contestable kicks and fronted up at the point of contact.

Warren Gatland’s overall view was “pretty positive”, with Erasmus commending Wales’s attitude. “I think we dominated the scrums but we didn’t necessarily dominate the collisions,” Erasmus said. “The Welsh are really close to the South African mindset and that’s what we got out there today even though there were a lot of young players in the team.”

That Gatland’s charges threatened to make a game of it from 14-3 down after 15 minutes, when two men in red were sitting in the sin-bin, is a testament to the spirit within the group. The Springboks got off to a flyer with Jesse Kriel playing a one-two with Makazole Mapimpi on the left wing to score on three minutes.

A Sam Costelow penalty reduced the deficit but it expanded soon after when Aaron Wainwright was sent to the sin-bin for hauling down a maul close to the line. That resulted in a penalty try and compounded the yellow card for Rio Dyer for an offside tackle under the poles moments earlier.

A thrashing looked the most likely outcome from there but Wales rallied, harrying Faf de Klerk at the back of the ruck and forcing mistakes elsewhere. Costelow added another penalty and when Aphelele Fassi stuck out a boot as he fielded a high ball, earning a yellow card for his dangerous lapse, momentum seemed to turn. A lucky bounce at a lineout landed in Dewi Lake’s breadbasket, handing him the equivalent of a football tap-in. Costelow nudged over the extras to complete a 10-point swing.

“I don’t think many would have given us that first half,” Lake said. “So a lot of positives, but we can’t be happy with that score. A lot of positives but a lot of learnings to take into the summer tour [to Australia].”

Down 14-13 but with the game’s tide drifting in their favour, Wales needed to score next. Instead it was Mapimpi who slid over in the corner two minutes after the restart. This time Kriel turned provider, though the decisive pass appeared to drift forward. Five more points from Hendrikse’s boot stretched the lead to 11.

Both sides saw the ball held up on the line with meaty carries from the forwards as the match devolved into a scrappy wrestle. It was telling that the biggest cheer from the crowd came when Siya Kolisi was shown on the big screen.

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Gatland and Erasmus will have their excuses. The former can point to a staggering list of absentees that includes the injured cohort of Tommy Reffell, Jac Morgan and Taulupe Faletau, the unavailable Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza, as well as the Kansas City Chiefs running back, Louis Rees-Zammit. The Springboks, playing together for the first time since beating the All Blacks in Paris, were without Kolisi, Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Handrè Pollard.

But when one coach can call on Bongi Mbonambi to come off the bench and score off the back of a rumbling maul, and can award debuts to Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Edwill van der Merwe – who, respectively, slotted a 60-metre penalty with his first shot at goal and who scored a blistering solo try – the strength in depth of the two unions becomes apparent. “We fronted up well, we showed up in that physical battle, but that last 30, 20 minutes was too much for us,” Lake conceded.

This is not a Springboks side in transition but one taking aim at future glories. Wales, for all their gumption, are simply not in the same league at present.

Source: theguardian.com