South Africa v Wales: Bloemfontein awaits but hard to forget about Pretoria for Wayne Pivac’s side
|Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein Date: Saturday, 9 July Kick-off: 16:05 BST|
|Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio Wales (incl Radio Wales Extra and 882 MW), Radio Cymru and BBC Sport Online, plus live text and match report on the BBC Sport website|
It is still hard to comprehend what we witnessed in Pretoria.
As South Africa and Wales prepare for the second Test in Bloemfontein, both sides will dwell on what happened on an incredible day at Loftus Versfeld.
It was a Test match for the ages, at least for the drama it served up.
As Pretoria was plunged into darkness, it was the fans wearing green and gold who eventually went home happy after a last-gasp Springboks win following a day which had started hours before with the breakfast braais lining the streets.
Many questions remain swirling around, though.
How were Wales leading 18-3 at half-time? How did they end up squandering that lead and a 24-15 advantage to let South Africa sneak victory?
Did their discipline warrant four yellow cards, with Wales at one stage being reduced to 12 men?
Was Dan Biggar’s final knock-on which led to Damian Willemse’s match-winning penalty deliberate? And what might have happened if Biggar had slotted over a late conversion to give Wales the lead?
History of heartbreak
We have been here before. Wales suffering last-gasp heartbreak in South Africa is nothing new and this latest defeat proves history can repeat itself.
Just remember the 31-30 defeat in Nelspruit in 2014 for Warren Gatland’s side after they had led for all of that game.
The similarities are striking.
Beaten at home by Italy just three months ago, Wales were written off before they arrived at altitude in Pretoria, yet they went toe-to-toe with world champions South Africa in front of a 50,000 capacity crowd at a ground where they had been humiliated 96-13 in 1998.
Wayne Pivac’s side had ignored the Springboks script and, for large parts of an epic contest, Wales restored pride in the jersey as they looked destined to end 58 years of hurt by claiming a first victory over the Springboks in South Africa at the 11th attempt.
With Will Rowlands charging around the Pretoria arena like a galloping giraffe, Taulupe Faletau proving his world-class status and new cap Tommy Reffell chopping down Springboks and turning over possession, Louis Rees-Zammit’s try double allowed Wales to build up a 15-point half-time lead.
That stunned the Loftus Versfeld crowd into silence after pockets of the stadium had been happy to chatter away during what was supposed to be a minute’s silence in tribute to Phil Bennett.
But you always sensed the Springboks would come back and in the end, Wales were edged out. Again. Another heroic defeat.
Discipline eventually cost Wales with Biggar adjudged to have infringed through a deliberate knock-on, a decision he later labelled “harsh”.
The indiscretion allowed Willemse to break Welsh hearts with the winning kick.
Four players were sin-binned with Biggar, Alun Wyn Jones, Rees-Zammit and Rhys Carre receiving yellow cards from referee Nika Amashukeli.
Biggar’s professional foul indiscretion was just before half-time, while Jones, Rees-Zammit and Carre were sanctioned during a frenzied finale.
Biggar and Rees-Zammit were deemed to have committed professional fouls by slowing down possession at rucks. The decisions have divided opinion on social media.
Wales suffered double jeopardy as Carre was punished for pulling down a maul which led to a South Africa penalty try, while Jones was handed 10 minutes off the field for being offside in the lead-up to Cheslin Kolbe’s try.
Pivac put the blame at Wales’ door when asked about the discipline rather than question why Amashukeli, 27, was given such a high-profile game so early in his international career.
Biggar also refused directly to criticise the official afterwards but his reaction, alongside Rees-Zammit, proved they did not agree initially.
In contrast, South African television pundits praised Amashukeli’s performance and Wales’ referee review will be interesting viewing.
Do not expect a Rassie Erasmus-style dossier, though.
Power plays and kicking tactics
The reason Wales lost discipline was because of the pressure piled on by their opponents.
The tourists knew all about the Springboks’ driving lineout tactics but were unable to stop three of the four tries for the home side coming from that area.
Wales’ character could not be questioned, though. Even after South Africa had taken the lead for the first time late in the game, Wales failed to surrender and replacement hooker Lake scored a try for what was by then a 13-man outfit which levelled the scores.
Biggar’s conversion slipped wide and Wales yielded the final penalty that Willemse slotted over.
It is here Wales will need to address a recurring theme when trying to close games out.
With the score at 29-29, replacement scrum-half Tomos Williams kicked the ball to the Springboks with less than 30 seconds remaining when Wales were two men light.
That allowed the Springboks to counter-attack and force the pressure which resulted in the Biggar indiscretion and Willemse’s penalty.
This is not a new phenomenon. Just three months earlier, Kieran Hardy had produced a similar kick against Italy with only a couple of minutes remaining and with Wales leading.
That allowed Italy full-back Ange Capuozzo to counter-attack and set up the winning try in Cardiff.
In Pretoria, Hardy was at the forefront of Wales’ superior kicking game against the Springboks, especially in the first half.
Whether it is individual error or players are obeying team orders, second-half tactics and game management in the dying minutes of matches need to be reassessed.
No more chances?
A popular narrative in South Africa was that Pretoria presented Wales with the only real chance of winning this month with the Tests in Bloemfontein and Cape Town destined to go in the favour of the home side.
To the home fans, this was the Springboks shaking off the rustiness in the first Test of the year, with a belief they will only improve.
Fly-half Handre Pollard should return to the selection equation after his understudy Elton Jantjies was pulled off at half-time following an unconvincing display.
Wales also have to replace prop Tomas Francis, who suffered a nasty head injury which resulted in Dillon Lewis having to play 80 minutes.
But Wales did not follow the script in the opening act of the three-Test series and they do not intend to do so in the next two weeks either.
Biggar insisted Wales were not going to roll out the red carpet and Siya Kolisi admitted the visitors had got under the skin of the South Africans.
Biggar was at the heart of that, as typified by a running second-half battle with South Africa wing Kolbe.
His more confrontational captaincy style is different to that of Alun Wyn Jones and Sam Warburton and sometimes threatens to boil over.
Biggar needs occasionally to keep those emotions in check so he does not alienate officials, while not losing the aggression that inspires his side, typified by his brilliant first-half drop goal.
He also needs to put his individual Pretoria disappointment behind him as the fly-half leads Wales to Bloemfontein.
So look forward and not back. At the moment, though, that is hard to do.