Wales vs. South Africa: 6 Things We Learned

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistNovember 9, 2013

Wales vs. South Africa: 6 Things We Learned

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    South Africa began their tour of the Northern Hemisphere with a spring in their step after managing a 24-15 win at the Millennium Stadium, despite having a far smaller share of the attacking opportunities.

    Tries from Jean de Villiers, Bismarck du Plessis and Fourie du Preez made the difference against Wales, who lacked a distinct bite in attack and were unable to record any points other than those via the boot of Leigh Halfpenny.

    Against one of the best teams in the world, Warren Gatland's team came up short in the physical battle as some may have predicted, but there are a host of other lessons to be taken from the Cardiff clash.

1. Habana Establishes He's Still at the Top

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    The question often asked of the best players in the world is not only just to produce pieces of magnificence on the pitch, but to do it often and to do it against the world's best.

    In the build-up to Saturday's game, Bryan Habana's battle against George North looked to be a thrilling encounter between two of the best wingers in the world.

    However, one most certainly stood out above the other, and it took just 10 minutes for the South African to edge his opposite man in direct competition, outpacing North on the way to seeing his side score the match's opening try.

    It's something Habana did throughout the course of the Rugby Championship, and The Final at Ellis Park may well have taken a different course had the Springboks' veteran speedster not had to go off with injury early on.

    Whether it's a result of coming into the line or sticking with width and doing the job on the outside, there's no stopping the blend of pace and precision that Habana so regularly brings to the table.

    Sixty metres made and four defenders beaten point to a pretty successful outing for the Toulon man.

2. Physical Rugby Gets Good, Bad and Ugly

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    Just as Robin McBryde had predicted coming into the fixture, Wales and South Africa put on a spectacle of incredibly physical proportions, the latter being renowned for their smash-mouth style of play in particular.

    However, as entertaining as the big hits might be, contact often strayed into the overzealous side of things in the Welsh capital, with Wales losing the likes of Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and Adam Jones all in the first 30 minutes of play.

    It would then stray into the illegal when Francois Louw was sin-binned for elbowing Richard Hibbard, although some might have felt the call to be a little harsh.

    Wales did come into the physical battle during the last 20 minutes of play, however, as the Southern Hemisphere visitors lost a little of their fire.

    That being the case, spectators got a glimpse of what positives and negatives there are with two teams being so upfront about their confrontation, not to mention everything in between.

3. Belle of the Maul

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    While South Africa's pack may be renowned for their outright strength, what makes them so effective are the touches of finesse and precise technique that they're able to bring to the fore, more often than not at the set piece.

    The successful manoeuvres in reference here is the line-out maul, Heyneke Meyer's side taking the ball down before carefully probing their Welsh counterparts time and again with great effect.

    The most potent contribution of these being Bismarck du Plessis' 16th-minute try as the hooker collected at the back of a sweetly set up maul, rolling over from short range in a move straight from the training field.

    This was a theme that ran throughout the course of Saturday's fixture, and Warren Gatland's side were left stumped as to what to do about it.

4. Possession Isn't Power

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    Wales finished the first half of their South Africa fixture with 62 percent of the attacking possession but, nonetheless, went in at the break as 17-12 losers, a deficit they were unable to overcome in the second half.

    The story was much the same in the second half; although, it was then that Meyer's men actually managed to get a better handle of the ball and boasted a majority of the ball.

    However, it was wasted chances that told the tale. Wales had more runs, made more metres and made more passes than their opponents, yet failed to make the few, clinical differences needed for the victory.

    And, it was exactly that which the Springboks showed themselves to be better at, the need for running ball not being as great thanks to the thriving high ball they were able to work from to great effect.

    Wales not scoring a try on their own turf isn't a story that's too familiar, but a waste of possession laid the foundations for a South African win, rather than the visitors having to work incredibly hard for their result.

5. Jean De Villiers Is the Best in the Business

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    South Africa saw a far smaller share of the possession against Wales and, thus, didn't have as many opportunities to assert their attacking presence, but that didn't stop Jean de Villiers from making himself known when necessary.

    Scorer of the opening try on the night, the Springboks captain led his team with the calm head that he so often shows, despite being guilty of a defensive lapse or two on occasion.

    The likes of Wesley Fofana and Ma'a Nonu might have something to say about De Villiers being called the world's best inside centre, but given how consistent the veteran has been with both the Stormers and in international competition, it's hard to argue otherwise.

    Against Wales, De Villiers may have only run for 23 metres, but it was the link-up play with Jaque Fourie that the 32-year-old is to be noted for on this occasion.

6. Jonathan Davies Can Be Wales' Centre Supreme

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    It's a fairly presumptuous point based off this weekend's showing given that Jonathan Davies played just 12 minutes before going off with a shoulder injury, but there may be a new sheriff in the Welsh centres.

    Eyebrows were raised when it was Davies who got the nod to start ahead of Brian O'Driscoll in the final Test of the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia this summer, but the 25-year-old is always justifying the decision.

    For some years now, Jamie Roberts has been considered the best centre in the Welsh arsenal, but the Racing Metro man undoubtedly has his limitations.

    In 12 minutes, Davies carried for 46 metres, making several cutting line breaks, giving the South African line a heap to worry about and playing well alongside Scarlets teammate Scott Williams.

    For now at least, injury is playing havoc with both of Warren Gatland's first-choice centres, but even when fit, it could be Davies who ultimately outshines his senior attacking partner.