It’s been a great start to the Rugby World Cup for the teams of the 6 Nations. Providing you’re from the southern hemisphere. If you’re actually a supporter and not just a smug member of the Tri-Nations rejoicing in your collective superiority, it’s largely been dismal. Even the supposed leading lights of Europe’s flagship tournament have fumbled around clumsily against opposition they were expected to trash like Ricky Martin undoing a bra. England were lucky anyone who can kick a ball straight in Argentina is playing football. France suffered something of a reverse Paris syndrome by failing to come to terms with Japan, Scotland were nearly out-plucky-minnow-ed by Romania and Ireland can at least pretend it was some fired up Americans on 9/11 that caused their labourious victory as opposed to crap handling and a lack of imagination. After much frustration and struggle, they just about got the job done and the clasp was undone and the metaphorical boobies spilled forth in the form of wins and points.
It was ironic that the best performance of the 6 Nations teams came from the team that ended up only with a losing bonus point and questions as to why the television match official was asked to adjudicate on James Hook’s early penalty. It’s not an irony the people of Wales will appreciate. He must have been catching up with the episode of X Factor he recorded from the night before. The Springboks were criticised for looking sluggish and old, but as this is South Africa at a World Cup, we can be pretty sure it was about as good a performance they could muster against a fiercely committed and dogged Welsh. Plus, they looked good against New Zealand last month unless the Boks are all secretly those insects that only life live for a month, we’re pretty sure the effects of age don’t set in that quickly. Here’s a look the how the Welsh handicap went as Wales went close to pulling off a major World Cup upset.
Pre-match: The pre-match handicap odds suggest Wales are merely fulfilling an obligation by turning up to get hosed by the Boks. They start the match getting 12 points and a flood of patronising comments about needing to start well and stifle reigning the world champions. If everything goes to plan, then they may be able to grasp desperately at South African coat-tails.
3 mins: It doesn’t take long before those coast-tails get a little bit further away. South Africa start strongly and Frans Steyn gets over in the corner. The TMO is unnecessarily used because it’s clearly a try, a seemingly innocuous event that may have a knock-on effect later in the game. It’s converted to give South Africa a 7-0 lead and Wales 16 points on the handicap.
11 mins: After getting the Welsh on the board with an earlier penalty. James Hook has another attempt. Like most people’s political tastes as they grow older, it goes a little to the right, but still looks reasonably good. Hook looks aggrieved and asks the referee to refer it to the TMO, but he basically says ‘ah, we did earlier for no real reason, let’s not bother him again.’
19 mins: South Africa restore the margin to a converted try with a penalty from Morne Steyn. Despite some promising play, Wales are still big outsiders to win the match.
30 mins: Wales respond well and Hook puts over another penalty to cut the deficit to 4 and reward a period of sustained Welsh pressure. It’s not as good a reward as a try or anything, but it’ll have to do with half-time approaching. 10-6 to South Africa and Wales are +8 on the handicap.
Half Time: That’s the way it stays. A good first half from Wales and it’s up to Warren Gatland to use his world famous skills. Although the benefit of 15 minutes of needlessly picking fights with various people in the rugby world is questionable.
53 mins: Possibly inspired by Warren Gatland’s hilarious Martin Johnson impression, Wales come flying out of blocks for the second half. They add a penalty to their tally and then touch down for a five-pointer thanks to the elusive wiggling of Toby Faletau. 16-10 to Wales and they may just take something other than a moral victory from this match.
65 mins: With the prospect of defeat looming and a far more tricky ¼ Final assignment in prospect, the South Africans get their act together. They string together a few phases of play before Francois Hougaard plays supersub and goes in for a try – aided by a lot of Welsh players standing around and watching on. Steyn converted and Wales find themselves a point down.
The last few minutes: It’s a nerve-racking closing few minutes – especially if you took Wales -4 points. If you took Wales +16 you’re probably not bothered because you’re sitting pretty. There’s a dramatic finish with Wales desperately trying to land the sucker punch that would win them the game and South Africa sticking the ball up their jumper in a bid to cling on to what they have. They do manage to hold on and Peter De Villers wears the relieved expression of a man who has been told the moustaches are coming back into fashion.