Wales finally succeeded in beating one of the Southern Hemisphere 'big three' in a scrappy, dogged encounter but the result really was all that mattered
Wales get the win they deserve
Wales beat South Africa 12- 6 and finally got the much referenced monkey off their back. But let’s face it, this wasn’t your common-or-garden monkey. Having not beaten the ‘big three’ for 22 consecutive games this was a King Kong sized monkey, after 12 months jacked-up on steroids. Collectively, the Welsh pack outmuscled arguably the most powerful forward unit in the game, particularly in the first half, delivering 50% possession and 53% territory.
The Welsh backline, led by the immaculate Dan Biggar, executed a rock solid defensive and kickchase strategy – missing just three tackles between them. The Welsh backrow were hugely effective at the tackle area. Warburton continued his return to form and clutched on to any unprotected ball with the desperate ferocity of a 38 year-old, single bridesmaid trying to get her hands on the brides’ bouquet. And, as ever, the boot of Leigh Halfpenny was at its best, kicking four from five, and his tackle on Eben Etzebeth will go straight into rugby folklore. But for all the statistics and individual brilliance only one thing matters – Wales beat the Boks – finally.
Dan Biggar’s ascendency continues
Dan Biggar executed a truly complete display against South Africa. The perfect fusion of kicking, distribution and defence. Biggar delivered the sort of numbers that you would have expected from Jonny Wilkinson in his prime. Admittedly, he only did this in one game, but was it one of the most assured performances from a Welsh outside half during the last decade.
Biggar’s tactical kicking was nano accurate and his work under the high ball was the equal of Leigh Halfpenny’s – praise indeed. But by far the most impressive aspect of his game was his defence. Biggar put in 11 tackles, missing none, and totally dominated his channel. This truly was his ‘coming of age’ performance and the game should have finally convinced the few remaining doubters of his suitability for the 10 shirt.
No auto subs
In elite rugby it often feels as though most front row substitutions are pre-determined. Almost as if Nostradamus is part of the coaching team and dictating the substitution strategy before a ball has been kicked. This was not the case on Saturday. Both Samson Lee and Scott Baldwin played the full 80 minutes and Gethin Jenkins played 74 minutes.
Whilst there is obviously stacks of GPS data showing that front row forwards’ peak performance levels drop after 50-60 minutes it doesn’t necessarily mean that they still don’t have the performance edge over the opposition – at that point in time. This was the case on Saturday where both Samson Lee and Scott Baldwin looked like they would have played until their lungs turned to dust in order to seal victory over the Boks. You’ll rarely see a Bok scrum destroyed so emphatically as it was in the 55th minute – it went back so quickly that it could have done with an accompanying message on loudspeaker -‘Warning: Springbok scrum reversing”.
Results over performance. Every time.
Prior to the Autumn Series we were told that performances were more desirable than results. You just needed to see the reaction of the Welsh coaching staff during the last few minutes of the game, to know that comments such as this should be taken with a pinch of Welsh sea salt. In truth, this wasn’t a perfect performance. The Springboks had players missing and their captain was stretchered off the field with a horrendous knee injury.
The Welsh lineout had issues and Wales were fortunate to benefit from Cornal Hendrick’s yellow card. Wales should arguably have scored a try whilst camped on the Springboks’ line during the final minutes of the game and Willie Le Roux appeared to have borrowed my hands for the afternoon. However, it is ludicrous to suggest the negatives of performance should outweigh the positives of the results. Wales finally managed to close out a game against the ‘big three’ and that is all that matters. End of.
Gethin Jenkins won’t lie down.
Gethin Jenkins is like one of those characters that simply can’t be killed at the end of a horror film. Over the past 18 months many have suggested that his test career should be brought to an end, yet he staggers back to his feet, takes the knives out of his back and comes back for yet another crack at it.
He was superb against South Africa in the summer and yet again demonstrated his ability to fuse frontrow power with backrow agility. Jenkins’ made 13 tackles from loosehead, which beat even Taulupe Faletau and Alun-Wyn Jones. What’s more, Jenkins maintained test level performance for 74 minutes, way beyond what is usually expected form a frontrow forward. Whilst Jenkins is no longer guaranteed the number 1 shirt for Wales, he certainly hasn’t given up on it just yet.