Siya Kolisi’s world champion Springboks delivered their series-best performance at the DHL Stadium in Cape Town – and they needed to do so to beat a courageous and talented Wales, writes Mark Keohane.
Capetonians kept faith with the world champions after two indifferent performances in Pretoria and Bloemfontein and the 51 500 who made it to the DHL Stadium made it the biggest crowd attendance in Cape Town for a Springboks Test in the professional era.
The Springboks, previously, had played their Test rugby at Newlands when in Cape Town. The Newlands capacity was 48 000.
The world champion Springboks were under pressure to deliver a performance worthy of their billing as world champions and also to honour Eben Etzebeth’s 100th Test. Etzebeth became the seventh Bok to play 100 Tests after Percy Montgomery became the first, also in Cape Town, in 2008.
Montgomery did it at Newlands, just up the road from his high school (SACS) and Etzebeth did it at the DHL Stadium, not too far from his high school (Tygerberg).
Etzebeth produced a rousing display in the Boks’s most controlled performance of the series. There were 20 World Cup winners in the match-day squad of 23 and the core of them played with the confidence associated with champions. For the first time in the series, the Boks scored first and they never relinquished the lead, although Wales refused to go away and constantly fought back through the boot of captain Dan Biggar.
When Wales reduced the deficit to 17-14 on 50 minutes, the question was how was there only three points separating the two teams? It was a question that was answered quickly when Kolisi thundered over for a converted try and the Boks lead by two scores. Handre Pollard would add more comfort to the occasion with two late penalties.
It was what the Boks deserved. They scored three tries and had three tries disallowed by the TMO.
The Boks on Saturday night were a whole lot better than they had been in the series and Wales were as resilient as they had been all tour.
The Boks, over the three-Tests, were not as good as I expected them to be and the Welsh were a whole lot better than I thought they would be.
The visitors lost the series, but they leave South Africa as history makers in winning a Test for the first time.
They will view the tour as a success, while the Boks go into the Rugby Championship battled hardened and very aware of their vulnerabilities.
Several Springboks players were off the pace in the first two Tests and a player like Pieter-Steph du Toit should in the Rugby Championship start to show the form that made him the 2019 World Player of the Year.
Kolisi should also be running into form against the All Blacks, which the Bok coaches could argue is what they had targeted for the team’s peak this season.
The All Blacks traditionally would be the big Test in South Africa, but on what we have seen in the past month Wales’s forwards looked decidedly tougher than the effort of the All Blacks against Ireland. The All Blacks lost for a fourth time in their last five Tests and lost a home three-Test series for the first time since 1986.
Wales’s very good backs exposed the soft underbelly of the Boks when you take the home team wide early, just as Australia did in Brisbane a year ago.
When the Boks are able to imprint their forward focus approach on a Test early on, they are very difficult to beat, but when teams match the Boks physically in the tackle, as Wales did through their chop tackles, and defend the line out maul, which Wales also did very well, then the Boks look lost for attacking ideas.
Trevor Nyakane looked a lot better playing in the No 1 jersey than he did wearing No 3, while the bomb-squad super sub finishers were at their most potent in Cape Town.
Damian Willemse enjoyed his breakthrough Test series and Jaden Hendrikse looked at home starting at No 9.
South Africa’s back row depth is the envy of any other Test team, while the front row club remains strong and healthy.
There isn’t the same depth at No 10 or in the midfield and the back three combinations, those used in all three Tests, need marked improvement.
Wales were a tough nut to crack and their performances earned respect from the 150 000 (largely) South Africans who paid to watch the three Tests. They asked tough questions of the Springboks, who were only able to answer then properly in the third and final Test.
There would have been plenty of lessons learned over the past three Tests, of individuals and of the squad as a collective.
And they will need to have been learned quickly if the Boks are to complete a home double over the frail and vulnerable All Blacks in August.
It was job done in Cape Town.
So thank you Springboks for pitching up as world champions and playing like champions.
— Mark Keohane (@mark_keohane) July 16, 2022
— Mark Keohane (@mark_keohane) July 16, 2022