WELLINGTON, Sept 11 (Reuters) : Francois Hougaard scored a late try as the Springboks begun their rugby World Cup defence with a nail-biting 17-16 victory against a fired-up Wales side who were unlucky not to snatch a win after domianting most of the match.
“We’re pretty happy to get off the board that way,” Springboks captain John Smit said. “Wales played some good rugby and kept us in our half ... but we took the chance when we got it. Close game, nice to get through it.”
The Springboks cast away their conservative play book in the opening minutes, choosing to spread the ball wide, which was rewarded when they stretched the Welsh defence on the left and Frans Steyn barrelled through the tackle of Shane Williams and over James Hook to score the opening try.
Flyhalf Morne Steyn converted from wide out to give the world champions a 7-0 lead and ominuously looking like they were going to run away with the match. Wales, however, who had been mindful of allowing the Springboks to consistently keep the scoreboard ticking over, settled and spent the majority of the half inside South Africa’s territory.
They managed to capitalise on that advantage, despite playing into a blustery, swirling, northerly wind, with two James Hook penalties sandwiched between a successful Morne Steyn penalty. Another penalty attempt from Hook was not awarded by the assistant referees, though television replays appeared to show the ball had actually passed inside the posts.
The second half continued in the same vein with Wales again dominating territory and possession, with Hook adding his third penalty before the hard-running number eight Toby Faletau crashed over in the 54th mintue. Hook’s conversion gave Wales a 16-10 lead with 25 minutes remaining, though South Africa were stung into action stringing together several phases with Hougaard scoring a try that was converted by Morne Steyn to give the Springboks a 17-16 lead with 15 minutes remaining.
Hook missed a long-range penalty, while flyhalf Rys Priestland also missed a dropgoal attempt, either of which would have given the Wales side only their second victory over South Africa in 26 tests.
“We played really well and are bitterly disappointed we didn’t get the win, but we’re getting closer. They’re a class team but we’ve been quietly confident all week,” Wales captain Sam Warburton said.