After Wales’ historic win last week, everything was to play for in the third and final Test against South Africa. Following last week’s disappointment, the Springboks were back to a much more recognisable XV—including a 50ᵗʰ cap for Bongi Mbonambi and a 100ᵗʰ cap for Eben Etzebeth—and thought they had got off to the best possible start when Makazole Mapimpi collected a kick out wide to go over in the corner, ony for replays to show he had a foot in touch, leaving Handré Pollard to kick 3 points from a penalty. They were straight back on the attack however as Damian Willemse beat Dan Biggar to a high ball in the Welsh 22 to earn a penalty, and after kicking it to the corner for a 5m lineout, Damian de Allende’s drive to the line saw him stopped just millimetres short of the Welsh line. The pressure on the Welsh line just continued as each attack ended in a penalty, allowing South Africa to go again, and as he clock reached 14 minutes, Handré Pollard managed to crash over for the try then kicked the conversion for a 10-0 lead. Wales were finally able to get some possession of their own, and after George North and Louis Rees-Zammit made ground down the wings, Nick Tompkins released Josh Adams with a wide pass, and while the wing was stopped by the covering Willemse, he successfully offloaded to the supporting Tomy Reffell for the try that his performances in South Africa deserved. An injury to Cheslin Kolbe caused a reshuffle in the South Africa back line entering the second quarter—Lukhanyo Am moving to the wing, Willemse into centre and Willie le Roux coming on at 15—and the game entered a period of parity, with much of the play taking place between the 10m lines. A Dan Biggar penalty on halfway appeared to spark the home side back into life, and when they won a penalty of their own deep in the Welsh 22, they went to the corner and Mbonambi peeled off the back of the maul to power through Kieran Hardy’s tackle an score the try with 2 minutes left in the half, Pollard adding the extras. There was time for one more chance for the Boks as the ball was spread right from a Kwagga Smith turnover. De Allende sent a grubber kick down the 5m channel and while Am managed to outpace the Welsh defenders, his attempted hack on sent the ball into touch for a 17-8 halftime lead.
Dan Biggar was able to make it a one-score game just moments into the second half, but the Boks thought they had an immediate response through a try by Lukhanyo Am, only for the try to be chalked off for a forward pass from scrum half Jaden Hendrikse after he made the break. Biggar chipped away at the home team’s lead with another penalty, while the next Boks attack saw them go through a series of penalties to the corner Siya Kolisi eventually forced himself over next to the post. With a 10-point lead, South Africa continued to attack, but utilised the kick in behind more to ensure that even if the attack failed the Welsh would have to play from deep, while Wales could find no answer against the South African defence and a pair of late penalties from Pollard secured the victory and the Test series with a score of 30-14.
Making a point
After a couple of questionable performances in this series, South Africa were out to make a point today. They were carrying and tackling with an extra intensity that made clear they were not just up for the match, but determined to win.
But more than that, they varied their game. This wasn’t all about strong defence, kicking for territory and forward dominance at the set piece, they were doing everything. From Pollard’s high balls that were exactly on the mark for the South African back 3, to spreading the ball wide and stretching the defence, to the grubber kicks in behind the defence, to hitting hard and consistently in midfield for umpteen phases… this Springboks team looked much more dangerous and , more importantly, complete than they had of late.
And in doing so, this is a major statement from the Boks. We all know that they can win games the ugly way.. Today they decided to remind us that they do have other ways to win too. 3 weeks from now, South Africa host New Zealand twice in consecutive weeks to start their 2022 Rugby Championship campaign. Judging by today’s performances, the All Blacks could be in serious trouble.
Taking them on
Credit to Wales, after 2 weeks of barely even trying to fire a shot in attack, they took the game to South Africa in this deciding Test. Rather than kicking everything and only looking to play when a South African penalty or error gave them possession in an attacking position, the Welsh were varying the game and making things less predictable, which then led to them managing to find space and playing into it.
Most notably was the Reffell try, which was made after a George North break up the left wing—the first attacking thing we’d seen from him all series!—the ball then being spread to Rees-Zammit to break up into the 22 on the other wing, and then while things got a little less polished, the Welsh continued to look to keep the ball moving and create space to exploit, which they then managed, allowing Tompkins to release Adams, who may have finished himself were he not so heavily strapped up, but found Reffell on the supporting line inside for the try. In just one attack, we had seen more intent from Wales than the rest of the tour!
Unfortunately, they struggled to consistently win the scrums, while their hookers’ issues throwing at the lineouts reared its ugly head again—how so many professional hookers struggle in this area despite it being a crucial part of the game is beyond me—and that limited the platform they had to play off, while in defence they gave away penalties far too easily. But this was a timely reminder to the world: as great as the South African defence is, they are not infallible and a team that will spread the ball and play attacking rugby can cause them serious problems.