Wales could not have played with more calm and composure in the first hour and the Springboks could not have played with more catastrophe and crassness – and yet somehow the Springboks still won, writes Mark Keohane.
They won because of the famed Bomb Squad replacements, but to look past the first fourty minutes is to court disaster as the international season unfolds.
The Boks in Pretoria on Saturday evening would have been whipped by New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and England, who all played earlier in the day.
I wanted the Springboks to win. I picked them to win by 20 points. Nick Mallett, on SuperSport picked them to win by a minimum of 15 and all the rugby writers at Wales on Line picked the Boks to win by 20.
The world champion Springboks were expected to destroy Wales at altitude, playing in front of a capacity crowd for the first time since 2019.
The South African expectation was soon nothing but exaserbation and Welsh hope turned to something far more tangible.
Former Welsh captain Sam Warburton had encouraged Wales to be disciplined, have a no-risk approach and be composed. They did that near perfectly for the first 60 minutes and the hosts resembled a mix and match outfit, assembled in the week, and one that had never played in front of a crowd.
The Boks, through their own ineptitude in the opening 40 minutes, offered Wales their head on a silver platter, but somehow the visitors managed to drop the historic platter and a first ever Welsh Test win in South Africa remains a mission for another Saturday.
Wales should be crushed. They led 18-3 at halftime and should have led by more.
The Springboks should be embarrassed at what they served up in the guise of world champions when playing in front of a home crowd for the first time. It was more an up yours to the fans than a thank you.
The lack of cohesion and desire in that opening fourty minutes were the early signs of too many World Cup stars being in a comfort zone. The red flags are there. The next two months will be one of damnation or redemption for those who stood so tall in Japan in 2019 and showed such character to overcome the British & Irish Lions in South Africa a year ago.
Too many of the Boks starters were in cruise control and only time will tell if the last minute escape is a blessing or a curse in the build-up to the 2023 World Cup.
Perhaps these Boks needed to create the wrong kind of history at Loftus and get beaten. Time will tell if winning on Saturday was a good thing or if these world champions needed to feel the shame of losing at home to the Welsh for the first time in history.
As a fan, it is easier to stomach a messy and ugly win than it is to deal with a glorious defeat.
Wales will be crushed. This was their ambush game and they blew it more than the Springboks won it.
The Boks won 32-29 through Damian Willemse’s 82nd minute penalty. It was the biggest moment of Willemse’s young international career and it will prove a defining moment. He needed a performance like Saturday’s at Test level and he delivered on an outstanding Vodacom URC campaign with the DHL Stormers.
The win itself can’t cloud a Springboks display that reinforced how off the pace the Sharks Galacticos are and have been all year. The Sharks, with their all empowering Springboks contingent have under performed all season and the core of those Sharks players, led by Bok captain Siya Kolisi, were again amongst the biggest under performers.
Elton Jantjies will be an easy target for what was his worst ever international 40 minutes, but it is the Bok coaching leadership who picked him to start a Test at No 10 when he had not played any competitive match for the past six months. His last match had been in December in 2021.
I willed Jantjies to somehow produce the miracle performance and wrote as much in the build-up. But he played like one who had not played all year. Everything he touched turned to dung. Faf de Klerk, on his inside wasn’t much better.
‘I’d rather have Elton John at flyhalf than Elton Jantjies’ was among the most humorous tweets in the first half.
It was that bad.
South Africa’s starting pack misfired as a unit and the introduction of Elrigh Louw, Kwagga Smith, Steven Kitshoff and Malcolm, Marx combined with a Welsh last quarter implosion to keep the Springboks in the Test.
Wille Le Roux, in the second half, provided presence at fullback and Willemse played with authority at flyhalf in the second half. Cheslin Kolbe and Damian de Allende were the pick of the overseas-based players, even though No 8 Jasper Wiese was awarded the broadcaster’s Player of the Match.
Wales were playing 12 on 15 in the final five minutes and scored a maul try with two minutes to go when their 13 fronted the Boks 15.
For the Boks that has to be embarrassing.
The match officiating was atrocious and a 27 year-old referee was out of his depth.
He didn’t favour one team over the other. He just couldn’t deal with the occasion and he never had control of the Test match.
The Boks won on the night but Wales never deserved to lose. That they did asks the question, if not in Pretoria on this Saturday night, then when for Wales?
I doubt it will be in Bloemfontein or Cape Town in this series because the Springboks surely can’t produce another half of rugby that was so lacking in inspiration and filled with ineptitude.
ALSO ON KEO