South Africa were far too strong for Wales in Durban on Saturday, delivering a clinical performance to give them a 38-16 victory in the first of two Tests. A dominant forward pack and some excellent play out wide led to five tries being scored by the Springboks.
It was a rough build up for South Africa, as key back Frans Steyn pulled out of the squad and there were a few exclusions due to illness and injury, including captain Jean De Villiers. They regrouped well and on his first start, former Junior World Championship star Jan Serfontein was superb.
With the midfield worries patched up – wing JP Pietersen did the job at second center – the forwards bullied the Welsh, who had no answer for their lineout drive and speed at the breakdown.
In the first half they swept Wales aside with relative ease, and with the knockout blow delivered (28-9 at halftime), took the foot off the pedal and made a few errors in the second.
“We struggled to cope with that pace and intensity in the first half,” said Warren Gatland.
“By half-time the game had gone away from us already and credit to South Africa for the way they played. I thought [Willie] Le Roux was a pest. He was outstanding and caused us a lot of trouble.
Fullback Le Roux, who made a huge amount of progress last season, had an excellent game.
“Willie is probably the best fullback in the world at the moment,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer. “He was world-class tonight. He didn’t set a foot wrong, he was unbelievable under the high ball and those chips were just outstanding.
“He is playing with a lot of confidence and has a license to express himself. I am very happy about his progress since he started on the wing last season. I challenged him to improve his aerial skills and defence last season and he did that very well.”
When asked how the Welsh can stop Le Roux in the second Test, backs coach Shaun Edwards joked in today’s press conference: “I thought about locking him in the toilet before the game.”
Bryan Habana finished well to score twice, while Duane Vermeulen, Le Roux and debutant wing Cornal Hendricks crossed the tryline. Alex Cuthbert scored a very well taken try for the visitors.
The second and final Test will be at the Mombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Saturday.