Defence was the order of the day in the last five minutes at the Millenium Stadium as South Africa held on to beat Wales 29-25.
Defence was the order of the day in the last five minutes at the Millenium Stadium as South Africa held on to beat Wales 29-25 on Saturday.
Needing a try to snatch victory, Wales laid siege to the South African line in the closing stages, going through some 15 phases of possession in injury-time, but some superb defence kept them at bay as the Springboks made it two wins from two games on European soil.
As hard as they tried, Wales were left to rue yet another defeat at the hands of their southern hemisphere visitors who at one stage looked dead and buried before staging a spirited fightback.
Up 17-3 in the first half, the Welsh looked a sure bet at ending their eleven-match losing drought over Tri-Nations opposition. But the boot of Morne Steyn (19 points) coupled with tries to debutant Willem Alberts and captain Victor Matfield in the second half, set up a thrilling finish that ultimately ended in heart-break for Wales.
In a game of two halves, Wales were worthy 17-9 leaders at half-time after getting the better of the sluggish world champions who looked a far cry from the team that dismantled the Irish only a week ago and were somewhat fortunate to head in just eight points down at the interval.
It got better for South Africa after the break, with their two quick-fire tries in the space of three minutes proving to be the deciding factor in this nail-biter of a Test.
The Boks got the start they were looking for, after Wales were penalised for entering the ruck from an offsides position and Morne Steyn's boot did the rest – three points to South Africa after just two minutes played.
However, that would be the last we would see of the visitors for the first quarter of the match as Wales hit back in emphatic fashion with two converted tries during a dominant 20 minute spell.
The first was just reward for the Welsh after turning down three points for a line-out eight meters out from South Africa's line. Alun-Wyn Jones did the business in the air, the ball went through the backs, Tom Shanklin seemed to obstruct a Bok tackler and George North went under the posts for a try on debut.
Stephen Jones added the extras from bang in front, and the shell-shocked Springboks strolled back for the restart. Ten minutes later, South Africa resumed their place under the posts to watch another Jones conversion sail between the uprights after James Hook got himself on the scoresheet.
Morne Steyn responded by landing his second penalty, with Andy Powell somewhat harshly penalised for going off his feet at a tackle.
But with Wales on the front foot and dominating both territory and possession, an increasingly ragged Springbok outfit paid for their indiscipline. Although Hook saw a penalty attempt from inside his own half drift just wide, Jones made no mistake from closer range after Deon Stegmann was pinged for an infringement at a ruck.
But it was the South Africans who finished the half the stronger as Wales were forced to desperately defend their line. The Springboks should have gone over for a try but, having wasted a clear chance to score out wide, they had to settle for a third penalty from Steyn to make the half-time score 17-9.
That lead was quickly extended to 20-9 after the restart when Bismarck du Plessis was called for trying to play the ball while on the floor, allowing Jones to kick his second penalty.
But from a position of apparent power, Wales suddenly found themselves on the back foot as the South Africans finally roused themselves to demonstrate just why they are the current world champs.
Bryne was penalised for not rolling away allowing Steyn to kick his fourth penalty and the Springboks then came alive with their two tries in three minutes.
After sustained pressure, the Welsh line was finally breached when substitute Alberts crashed over from close range out wide – Steyn adding a fine conversion to bring the visitors back within one at 20-19.
They then hit the front as captain Matfield went over to mark his record-breaking 103rd cap. Having worked the ball from right to left, the Wales defence was left horribly exposed when the South Africans quickly moved the ball back the other way and Matfield, up in the line, careered over despite the attention of two would-be tacklers – Steyn added the extras.
A frantic five-minute period was capped by North who, alone in oceans of space on the right wing, was spotted by Stephen Jones, the young winger collecting an astute cross-field kick from his fly-half to drop over the line for his second try.
But Jones was unable to add the conversion and South Africa's slender lead was stretched to four points with 16 minutes remaining when Wales' backs were caught offside at a maul handing Steyn a simple penalty chance in front of posts.
Steyn increased his side's lead, but Wales finished the match camped just metres from South Africa's tryline, rumbling on through their forwards for repeated phases before the Springboks finally – and with a huge sigh of relief – shut up shop.
Man of the match: The 18-year-old giant Wales wing George North, who has already been dubbed the Welsh Jonah Lomu, matched his billing with a barnstorming display.
Moment of the match: Wales' last-gasp effort at the end – anyone watching will no doubt have shorter nails and less hair for it.
Villain of the match: No cards. But perhaps Wales were their own worst enemies for letting the Boks back in the match in what could have been a memorable Welsh victory.
Tries: North 2, Hook
Cons: S Jones 2
Pens: S Jones 2
For South Africa:
Tries: Alberts, Matfield
Cons: M Steyn 2
Pens: M Steyn 5
Wales: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 George North, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 James Hook, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Jonathan Thomas, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Andy Powell, 5 Bradley Davies, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Huw Bennett, 17 John Yapp, 18 Ryan Jones, 19 Deiniol Jones, 20 Richie Rees, 21 Andrew Bishop, 22 Chris Czekaj.
South Africa: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Frans Steyn, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (capt), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira,
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Zane Kirchner, 22 Patrick Lambie.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
By Dave Morris