Wales 12-6 South Africa: Victory gives Wales World Cup boost

By Bruce PopeBBC Sport Wales
Liam Williams & Cornal Hendricks
Liam Williams impressed as he deputised for the concussed George North on the wing

After the pressure the release, as Wales came to the boil to end their autumn series on a high with a much-needed win over South Africa.

Wales coach Warren Gatland had fielded numerous questions about pressure leading up to Saturday's 12-6 win. Was he feeling it, could he handle it?

Those questions had been sparked by two more defeats by Australia and New Zealand this autumn as winning positions disappeared in the blink of an eye, in what has become a familiar and depressing pattern against the big southern-hemisphere teams.

Wales coach Warren Gatland
"Today we made it a little bit hard on ourselves but we deserved the win."

But in the Millennium Stadium, Wales produced a stirring reply by claiming just the second win in their history over the Springboks, adding to the previous solitary success in 1999 at the same venue.

"We thrive on pressure at this level. That's what it's all about," Gatland took great pleasure in saying in his post-match press conference.

"We pushed the three best teams in the world right to the end in two games, we were leading and weren't able to finish it off.

"Today we made it a little bit hard on ourselves but we deserved the win."

While the coach's record against the big three - now two wins from 28 encounters - still makes for grim reading, Saturday's win over South Africa is a huge boost a year out from the World Cup.

Ireland's 29-15 win over South Africa earlier in November may have been more spectacular, but Wales kicking their way to just a second Springboks scalp is just as noteworthy.

The physical side of Wales' game is always impressive, but on Saturday it was at last married to a mental toughness that lasted for the full 80 minutes.

Wales's Leigh Halfpenny tackles Eben Etzebeth of South Africa
As well as kicking all of Wales' points, Leigh Halfpenny's tackle on Eben Etzebeth prevented a Springboks try

With just a six-point lead going into the final five minutes, Wales remained vulnerable.

Wales have seen a winning position snatched away so many times at the death that hearts were in mouths when South Africa were awarded a five-metre scrum - after Scott Williams tried to pluck a touch-finder out of the air but could only put the ball over the dead-ball line.

But the Wales pack put in one last magnificent shove to disrupt the Springboks and clear the danger, while every other man in a red shirt kept his cool to close out the game.

"We've been in that position so many times it actually didn't feel alien or a pressure situation," said Wales captain Sam Warburton.

"We still knew exactly what we had to do and what I was pleased with was there was more talk in that last five minutes than I've ever heard in any Test match I've played in.

"Players were constantly telling each other what to do and that's where we've made mistakes in the past.

Sam Warburton & Victor Matfield
Captain Sam Warburton described the victory as one of his best achievements in a Wales shirt

"We were also physically in a really good place in that last five minutes and that was one of the pleasing things, I felt if the game had to go into extra time for whatever reason we felt decent and could apply pressure even when we were defending."

The half-back partnership of Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar has grown at the Ospreys and is now blossoming for Wales, and the pair's control and management was hugely impressive.

That they were given the opportunity to show their skills was down to a fine performance from the Wales forwards, who had the upper hand in the scrum and scrapped and tackled their hearts out in the loose.

Leigh Halfpenny turned the good work into points, the full-back metronome kicking all but one of his five penalties and hitting the post with the one attempt that went astray.

Wales under Gatland have long had the skills, physique and fire in the belly to make them formidable opponents, as two Grand Slams and a further Six Nations title under the New Zealander's stewardship can testify.

If they have now been able to add ice-cool minds to that mix then Wales may at last be able to mount a challenge to the southern hemisphere powers on a regular basis.

With a rare victory over South Africa now under their belts, Wales are now set fair for February's Six Nations as they continue to build towards the ultimate prize of next year's World Cup.

England and Australia await in their pool, and Saturday's win will have given both those sides fresh food for thought on the challenge Wales will provide.