South Africa kept their perfect home record against Wales intact on Saturday, beating a valiant Welsh outfit 43-17 in Bloemfontein.
Under crystal clear skies and a warming sun, South Africa, in their first game under Peter de Villiers, went about their business in an impressive and professional manner. Despite suffering in the scrum the Springboks, guided by an astute display from Butch James, played a well-constructed game of rugby.
James' boot did the damage as he kicked five first-half penalties and ensured Wales were never really in with a chance of breaking their duck in South Africa. That is not to say Wales were not value for money, far from it, but ultimately they were lacking in firepower. There was no hiding the fact that Wales missed those at home injured as well as a recognised openside.
Leading into the game, Ryan Jones constantly reminded us that South Africa is the toughest place in the world to play Test rugby, and he wasn't far from the truth. South Africa grew in confidence as the game developed and by the time Percy Montgomery rounded things off, Peter de Villiers could be seen with a smile stretched across his face that summed up the feeling of his team perfectly.
There has been, in recent weeks, a growing concern that De Villiers would not produce a team capable of developing from where Jake White left them after the World Cup. That fear was compounded further when he announced his team on Thursday - several surprise selections and those in the know were starting to question his sanity and coaching ability. All that will be forgotten now as his charges proved they are just as good as the class of 2007.
Not to say there are areas that won't need fine tuning but on the whole this was a performance from a team who are only going to get better. The main concern will be the scrum - a facet of the game South Africa are not used to struggling in - and with the Tri-Nations not far off De Villiers will need to look at other options. Brian Mujati was exposed at tighthead and may find he pays the price when the side for next week's Test is announced.
Neither side started particularly well - there were plenty of early nerves and errors to boot - but Wales shot themselves in the foot by gifting their hosts an early head start. Butch James proved he is a more than capable goal kicker - he ended the day with an unblemished scorecard - and had the Springboks into a six-point lead before Wales had even entertained the idea of scoring themselves.
Stephen Jones did reply with three points of his own but Wales were struggling to assert themselves with ball in hand and continued to give away costly penalties. James continued kicking the points and after twenty minutes South Africa were starting to play some enterprising rugby. Wales' defence was, at times, impressive but there was little they could do to prevent Conrad Jantjes scoring the game's opening try.
The score came from a stolen line-out, for which Andries Bekker was responsible, and highlighted South Africa's ability to play fast, attacking rugby. When Luke Watson surged through the middle of a ruck, Wales were on the ropes. Quick ball ensured they were unable to recover and slick interplay between Jantjes and Adi Jacobs left Shane Williams chasing shadows and Wales staring down the barrel.
If anything, the score lifted Wales, who were slowly starting to find their feet and cause the Springboks a few problems of their own. Having seen one overlap wasted when Dafydd Jones was hammered so hard he lost the ball forward Wales were not about to let another chance pass them by. It came as no surprise that Shane Williams sparked the move with a typical dazzling run before the ball was moved wide to Sonny Parker who ran hard and straight before sending Jamie Roberts in for his first try in Test rugby.
Sadly for Wales their only other score, a fine try from Williams, was nothing more than a consolation. For try as they did to get a foot hold in the game they didn't quite have that extra gear to do so. Be it a long domestic season, altitude or a lack of senior players Wales simply couldn't unlock the Springbok defence on a regular enough basis to stand a chance of staging a fightback.
Instead South Africa exerted their collective muscle and simply overpowered Wales. The try that sealed the game came early in the second half. Wales were still in the hunt at 22-10 but when Jean de Villiers went over it was game, set, and match to the Springboks. Two further tries came for Pierre Spies and Percy Montgomery to give the final scoreline a healthy look and South Africa can now look forward to the second Test in Pretoria next Saturday.
Wales will take the positives from this and move on, but in doing so they must also realise you simply can't afford to give away so many kickable penalties in Test rugby. Williams' try was a touch of class and he made Bryan Habana look like a slouch in the process of scoring, but Wales can ill afford to rely on one man to do their damage. So after the Grand Slam euphoria it is very much a case of back down to earth for Wales, the true test of their ability will come next week when they look to hit back.
Man of the Match: Alun Wyn-Jones impressed once again, showing just why he is so highly rated as a player and a leader. Ryan Jones was industrious and carried with intent but was always up against it. Adi Jacobs' performance will silence those critics who felt he should not have started, Andries Bekker shone on debut and Luke Watson was a constant thorn in Wales' side. Butch James takes the honours though for his total control of the game at fly-half. He turned in a stellar display of goal-kicking and had an air of confidence in everything he did.
Moment of the Match: Butch James' first penalty kick. In a game that, after twenty minutes, was only ever going to end with a Springbok win it was the start of a long afternoon for Wales.
Villain of the Match: Both sides were too busy playing rugby for there to be anything untoward.
For South Africa:
Tries: Jantjes, De Villiers, Spies, Montgomery
Cons: James 4
Pens: James 5
Tries: Roberts, Williams
Cons: S.Jones, Hook
Yellow cards: CJ van der Linde (South Africa -76th minute -fighting), Richard Hibbard (Wales - 76th minute -fighting).
South Africa: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Tonderai Chavanga, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Bolla Conradie, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Luke Watson, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 CJ van der Linde, 17 Bismarck du Plessis, 18 Victor Matfield, 19 Danie Rossouw, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Peter Grant, 22 Percy Montgomery.
Wales: 15 Jamie Roberts, 14 Mark Jones, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Sonny Parker, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Gareth Cooper, 8 Ryan Jones (c), 7 Dafydd Jones, 6 Jonathan Thomas, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Duncan Jones, 17 Richard Hibbard, 18 Ian Evans, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Warren Fury, 21 James Hook, 22 Morgan Stoddart.
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Touch judges: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand), Stuart Terheege (England)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)
Assessor: Patrick Robin (France)
By Marcus Leach in Bloemfontein