South Africa v Wales: Harsh lessons learned against Boks

 

The faces of the Wales management and captain Alun Wyn Jones told their own story following their side's extraordinary 31-30 defeat by South Africa in Nelspruit.

From left to right defence coach Shaun Edwards, Jones, head coach Warren Gatland, his assistant Rob Howley and forwards coach Robin McBryde sat in an unhappy row facing the media.

Three were not asked questions so didn't utter a word.

When Gatland and Jones did speak, they did so with dignity about the harsh lessons of international rugby and the cost of indiscipline when top-class officials are in charge.

However, it was Gatland's first answer which most clearly illustrated the mood of the five men on what the media like to call "the top table".

"I'm pretty gutted about it. I'm proud of the performance, the turnaround and how the guys fronted up," Gatland said.

Wales were leading 30-24 when referee Steve Walsh awarded a penalty try after Liam Williams shoulder-charged Cornal Hendricks into touch just short of the try line.

Morne Steyn converted to deny Wales a historic first Test win in South Africa.

THE TOUR

The facts of this Test series are stark - one win against a non-Super Rugby side and two losses against the Springboks.

In the two Tests nine tries were conceded and four were scored.

Cornal Hendricks

Cornal Hendricks scored two tries in the Test series win over Wales

In 50 years of trying, Wales have still not beaten South Africa on their home turf.

But the turnaround from the outgunned and outpaced side of the first half in the opening Test match in Durban, to the stunning opening 20 minutes in Nelspruit was astonishing.

With basically the same team - there were only two changes from the starting line-up in Durban - Wales played with the power and precision which won them back-to-back Six Nations Championships in 2012 and 2013.

They led 17-0 after 20 minutes and 30-17 going into the last 10 minutes. That they didn't win was a testament to the Springboks' fitness and determination and Wales' inability to control possession - and with it the game - at a vital stage.

Closing out the win is what they call it.

DISCIPLINE

Wales picked up three yellow cards in the two Test matches, during which they conceded 28 points.

When both sides had 15 men on the pitch in Nelspruit Wales outscored the Boks.

Luke Charteris

Luke Charteris was one of two Wales players to be sin-binned in the second Test

But during a crucial period in the second half when Flip van der Merwe was in the sin-bin, Wales managed only three points.

Wales could not match the ruthless way their opponents exploited a numerical advantage.

Which brings us to the penalty try awarded against Williams for his last-ditch tackle on Hendricks which saw South Africa take the lead for the first time, 90 seconds from full-time.

Gatland had no complaint about the decision, and said that the players need to realise that at the very top level they have to be "squeaky clean" because officials and cameras miss very little.

It was an acknowledgement that Williams had made a mistake for which he had apologised to his team-mates.

THE FUTURE

Wales have an autumn international series and a Six Nations to negotiate before the really serious business of the World Cup in 2015.

They face England and Australia in their pool - two teams who have been impressive during the summer international series.

The display in Nelspruit offers hope that Wales can finish in the top two and qualify for the quarter finals, but they have to recapture that form and not that of Durban.

Mike Phillips and Taulupe Faletau

Mike Phillips and Taulupe Faletau were outstanding in South Africa

The performances of Josh Turnbull, Samson Lee and Aaron Jarvis will have impressed the management and hint at a little depth in the squad.

The big names - Gethin Jenkins, Jones, Mike Phillips, Taulupe Faletau - were outstanding.

With a clutch of injured players to return - Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny and Richard Hibbard to name but three British and Irish Lions - a fully-fit Wales will be a genuine challenge for England and Australia.

In the post-match media conference a grim-faced Gatland paid tribute to Jones' speech to the players in the dressing room after the game.

Jones, said Gatland, had told the players not to be "too Welsh" about the performance and result.

Wales' tour of South Africa

10 June: Eastern Province Kings 12-34 Wales

14 June: South Africa 38-16 Wales

21 June: South Africa 31-30 Wales

The interpretation is that there can be a tendency among Welsh fans in particular to celebrate glorious defeat.

The match in the Mbombela Stadium set in the heart of the lowveld scrub was undoubtedly glorious - a thrilling rollercoaster filled with top-class play and controversy.

But Wales lost, and they really should have won. The players have to concentrate on the reasons why they didn't win and rectify them.

It's a cliche to say international rugby is a results business.

But anyone who saw the faces of the Wales management after the game know the truth of that statement.