What can Ireland learn from South Africa’s comfortable victory over Wales?

Warren Gatland’s side in touch at half-time despite being down to 13 men but a Springbok second half surge pads out the scoreline

South Africa's wing Edwill van der Merwe celebrates scoring a try against Wales. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images
South Africa 41 Wales 13

It wasn’t quite a statement performance, but it was a performance that made a statement, one that asserted that the traditional virtues of South African rugby are still very much to the fore in the first outing for the new coaching cadre in the unfamiliar surroundings of Twickenham.

Rassie Erasmus is back as head honcho, one of the sport’s great free-thinking attack coaches, New Zealander Tony Brown, latterly of Japan, is the backs’ guru while former Munster and Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery, a disciple of Jacques Nienaber’s defence set-up, is all about shutting down the opposition with the same aggressive line speed.

Ireland’s squad departs for South Africa on Monday and Tuesday of this week to play a couple of Tests, the first at altitude in Pretoria on Saturday July 6th, and then seven days later the tourists will embrace the delights of Durban at sea level.

As the match was played outside the international window the Springboks had 10 players from their World Cup final win in France and 16 in total from the squad that went to the tournament in France, while also offering debuts to four players and two starters in wing Edwill van der Merwe and outhalf Jordan Hendrikse.


Andy Farrell will have noted a few wrinkles to traditional plays in attack but for the most part the Springboks relied on a primary power source, the scrum. They squeezed Wales for six penalties in that particular set piece, and it could have been more, had referee Chris Busby not twice pinged Ox Nche for walking around and not driving straight.

The lineout spluttered at times, Malcom Marx with a crooked throw, and another that sailed over captain Pieter Steph du Toit, while it inadvertently provided the source material for Wales, a couple of untidy slap backs pounced on by their excellent hooker and captain Dewi Lake for his team’s only try.

Irish referee Chris Busby shows a yellow card to Wales' Rio Dyer. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

South Africa were occasionally guilty of forcing passes – they have introduced more of an offloading game – especially in the first half - but that commitment to a wider game also yielded two cracking tries, each finished with aplomb by centre Jesse Kriel and wing Makazole Mapimpi. The ‘Boks managed to slip backrow players into backline attack.

Erasmus will have enjoyed other aspects of the performance, notably that of debutant right wing Edwill van der Merwe, another sprite with marvellous footwork and a gas pedal similar to Kurt-Lee Arendse and Cheslin Kolbe. The 28-year-old van der Merwe grabbed a try on debut but there was so much to admire in his general display. He read the game superbly and tackled with authority.

Fullback Aphelele Fassi was imperious in the air, despite one aberration which earned him a yellow card, when he caught Welsh flanker Taine Plumtree with studs to the neck as he landed, pushing his boot out rather than withdrawing it. Referee Busby deserves credit for ignoring his two English assistants who told him it was ‘a rugby incident.’

Otherwise Fassi’s aerial work was top class, albeit acknowledging that Wales didn’t really put up many contestables, kicks drifting a little too far. Ireland will require a judicious kicking game. Evan Roos and Ox Nche were effective on the gain-line, Faf de Klerk typically busy in cajoling and directing, while Kriel, van der Merwe, Mapimpi and Fassi periodically escaped Welsh clutches.

Debutant outhalf Jordan Hendrikse settled somewhat after a nervy start but Wales demonstrated that if the opposition can get to him in the backfield passing channels, he makes some rash decisions. Kwagga Smith and Franco Mostert both gave away a couple of penalties apiece. The ‘Boks’ bench made a big impact, stretching a 14-13 interval lead by a further 27 unanswered points.

Replacement outhalf Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu looks a player of promise, while old faces like hooker Bongi Mbonambi – he was very fortunate in one instance that having led with his head into contact, he was adjudged to be making a tackle by the Busby/TMO Mark Patton – and tighthead Frans Malherbe ratcheted up the power levels on arrival.

Wales did well to overcome a torrid opening and did fight back, led by Lake and Aaron Wainwright, but apart from two counterattacks, which might have led to tries, they were well chaperoned in possession.

They conceded a try to Kriel on three minutes, lost Rio Dyer and Wainwright to yellow cards, and when they were back to a full complement, trailed 14-3, the ‘Boks awarded a penalty try to go with Wainwright’s folly. Lake’s try and a Sam Costelow penalty saw them trail by just a single point at the interval.

Makazole Mapimpi of South Africa scores against Wales. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

Mapimpi crossed for a well worked try, Erasmus summoned the reinforcements and the Springboks thereafter dominated against a Wales side that visibly wilted, especially when they had to summon the bench cohort. There were one or two flickers in attack where the Welsh showed that composure and accuracy can get a team outside the ‘Bok press from time to time.

There were a couple of questions in the on-pitch post-match interviews about hosting Ireland but no one was biting, phrases like “top quality” and “tough” keeping the conversation at arm’s length.

Scoring sequence - 3 mins: Kriel try, Hendrikse conversion, 7-0; 6: Costelow penalty, 7-3; 14: Penalty try, 14-3; 29: Lake try, Costelow conversion, 14-10; 34: Costelow penalty, 14-13. Half-time: 14-13. 42: Mapimpi try, Hendrikse conversion, 21-13; 49: Hendrikse penalty, 24-13; 65: Feinberg-Mngomezulu penalty, 27-13; 68: Mbonambi try, Feinberg-Mngomezulu conversion, 34-13; 74: van der Merwe try, Feinberg-Mngomezulu conversion, 41-13.

SOUTH AFRICA: Aphelele Fassi; Edwill van der Merwe, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi; Jordan Hendrikse, Faf de Klerk; Ox Nche, Malcolm Marx, Vincent Koch; Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert; Kwagga Smith, Pieter-Steph du Toit (capt), Evan Roos.

Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi for Marx (45 mins), Frans Malherbe for Koch (45 mins), Grant Williams for de Klerk (52 mins), Ben-Jason Dixon for Roos (53 mins), Damian de Allende for Esterhuizen (57 mins), Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu for Hendrikse (59 mins), Salmaan Moerat for Etzebeth (61 mins), Ntuthuko Mchunu for Nche (67 mins).

Yellow card: Aphelele Fassi (29 mins).

WALES: Cameron Winnett; Liam Williams, Owen Watkin, Mason Grady, Rio Dyer; Sam Costelow, Ellis Bevan; Gareth Thomas, Dewi Lake (capt), Kieron Assiratti; Matthew Screech, Ben Carter; Taine Plumtree, James Botham, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Harri O’Connor for Assiratti (39 mins), Gareth Davies for Bevan (57 mins), James Ratti for Screech (60 mins), Kemsley Mathias for Thomas (61 mins), Evan Lloyd for Lake (66 mins), Eddie James for Grady (70 mins), Jacob Beetham for Costelow (70 mins), Mackenzie Martin for Plumtree (73 mins).

Yellow card: Rio Dyer (10 mins), Aaron Wainright (14 mins).

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer