Springboks v Wales: Five takeaways as half-back’s ‘absolute nightmare’ leaves Rassie Erasmus with ‘a lot of thinking to do’

James While
Springboks fly-half Jordan Hendrikse looks on.

Springboks fly-half Jordan Hendrikse looks on.

Following a 41-13 victory for the Springboks over Wales at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday, here’s James While’s five takeaways from the match.

The top line

It says something about Springbok expectations that despite a convincing 41-13 win against Wales at a neutral venue, the abiding emotion was one of frustration at the error strewn and inaccurate performance of the world champions.

After racking up 14 points in the first period of the match, and with two men in the sin-bin, it looked like South Africa were set up to make a cricket score against Wales, but inaccuracy in every aspect and avarice with attacking plays conspired to take the edge off their performance.

However, one must also congratulate the way Wales clawed their back into the match after facing a green and gold stampede in the opening moments. Outgunned and outmuscled in that period, they can take a lot of pride from their performance as they managed to hold out despite the onslaught, especially considering the difference in the relative evolution cycles of both teams.

South Africa and Rassie Erasmus have a lot of thinking to do before they face Ireland, their bogey side, at home. Half-back is a massive issue for them and without their regular options there, they lacked control and direction, something that must be addressed before the Irish series.

However, a win is a win, and the Boks tend to adapt well and have an ability to quickly fix their poor performances, but you can bet your life that the review of this performance by the coaches will be absolutely brutal and pinpoint in analysis, as South Africa look forward to their encounter with Andy Farrell’s Ireland.

Error-strewn Boks

Whilst you can argue that this was South Africa’s first hit out since their World Cup win and that a degree of inaccuracy was to be expected, this was a display from the world champions that was miles short of their wonderfully accurate and physical best.

After the first 15 minutes, where Wales conceded the collision in 12 consecutive plays, you feared for the health of their players and it seemed only a matter of time before the floodgates opened wide, as Wales were throwing in double the amounts of players to the breakdown that their opponents were using.

The numerical mismatches created the first two tries, one delightful interchange between Jesse Kriel and Makazole Mapimpi for the Bok centre to fly over in the corner.

Springboks shake off rust as debutant shines in convincing victory over Wales

But as Wales lost two players to the sin-bin in the first quarter, South Africa almost started to overplay their hand, moving away from the traditional virtues of Bok rugby and getting drawn into over confidence that resulted in a display of error strewn and undisciplined rugby. They lacked direction at half-back, they haemorrhaged penalties despite a clear physical advantage.

And, as the Boks faltered, so belief crept into the Welsh defence as their back-row, led by Aaron Wainwright, and centres put some massive shifts in defensively.

South Africa got over the line, but it was a far from vintage performance from the world champions and they’ll spend a lot of time looking at the way they were dragged into playing a game that’s a long way away from their direct and physical brand.

Welsh fortitude

For the first half, Wales, rather remarkably, held on to keep within a penalty of the Boks, despite conceding almost every collision and enduring an absolute hammering at scrum time. The scrum will remain a point of contention as the officials chose to ignore the massive legal dominance of the green and gold scrum on a number of occasions, as Wales collapsed, popped and went backwards over the course of six separate encounters. They also ignored the deliberate wheeling under pressure from the Welsh pack and at one point choosing to ping Ox Niche for going around the corner despite the Wales tighthead collapsing like a Rishi Sunak leadership pledge.

This, combined with a contentious yellow card (one that assistant referee Adam Leal tried to argue was a fair rugby collision) on the outstanding Aphelele Fassi for dangerous play, allowed Wales the chances to get back into the match, and with Sam Costelow bringing Liam Williams’ aerial skills into the match with some very impressive cross-field kicks, Wales managed to claw their way back into a game where they were getting absolutely smashed at every collision, breakdown and scrum.

But you can only play what’s in front of you and there was a lot to admire about the Welsh leadership; Dewi Lake put in a really positive personal performance, leading by example in adversity, Taine Plumtree had his moments, especially defending the rolling maul, whilst the whole Welsh back three hung on despite facing a relentless aerial battle.

It wasn’t pretty, it was desperate at times, but it gave Wales something to take out of this game in terms of confidence and a platform to build off and as they moved into the second half, their defence continued some heroic work, with one Gareth Thomas tackle preventing a certain Evan Roos try on the Welsh line.

Star performers

For Wales, as noted, skipper Lake can be remarkably proud of his personal performance, both positionally and from a captaincy perspective. Alongside him, James Botham, Plumtree and Wainwright fought their socks off in a power battle where they conceded some serious poundage. But the back-row scrapped liked demons and used every tool in their box to disrupt, steal and close down the Springbok ambition.

Williams looked a man rejuvenated and his battle under the high ball was one that was fought ferociously, with the wing winning as many as he conceded.

However, his opposite number Edwill van der Merwe had a game of huge proportions, deservedly winning Player of the Match. He’ll remember his double tackle in the first half with some pride, as he firstly stopped Williams’ run then got up to halt Mason Grady in his tracks coming around on the offload. But his 74th minute try was a special moment as the 28-year-old sprinted straight through the Welsh defence as the Bok wing picked off the guarding props and gassed the scramble to go in for a debut try.

Alongside Van der Merwe, Fassi was massive in defence, dominating the airways all afternoon in a brilliant competition with his Welsh opponents. And, for two regular faces of the Boks, both Franco Mostert and Jesse Kriel managed to keep their shape and concentration, putting in convincing displays on both sides of the ball.

New faces and returnees

Above all, the Springboks will be delighted with the performance of their back three, notably Fassi and as mentioned, debutant Van der Merwe, who will remember his first game in the green and gold with some pride.

On the openside flank, Kwagga Smith made a real impression with ball in hand in a rare start for him in that position, whilst Roos had his moments, but will be disappointed in a couple of his decisions close to the line. And, old stager Damian de Allende made a big impact off the bench with his direct running, skillful offloading and brilliant defensive work.

However, for the returning Malcolm Marx it was a different story as the world class hooker struggled for accuracy at the lineout on his return to action. It was a combination of rust from his side and some poor co-ordination of the jumper and lift, unusual for any Springbok team, and it’s something South Africa must fix before they take on Ireland.

But the biggest issue the Boks faced was the lack of control and accuracy in their half-backs, where they could exert no match control. Faf de Klerk tried manfully to get his backs going but at 10 Jordan Hendrikse had an absolute nightmare in terms of both distribution and kicking. His lack of impact, combined with inaccuracy and handling errors time and time again in the backline will be a big talking point for Bok selection moving forward.

READ MORE: Wales player ratings: Dewi Lake ‘stands up’ to Springboks physicality but Warren Gatland’s men overwhelmed by world champions