Wales captain Ryan Jones feels the pain of another defeat to South Africa
By Bruce Pope
BBC Sport at The Millennium Stadium
This was meant to be the day that Wales doubled their victory tally over South Africa.
The men in red have only beaten the Springboks once in 104 years, a 29-19 success in the Millennium Stadium's opening game in June 1999.
The Springboks arrived at the same venue with an under-strength side, starting with three new caps, two more on the bench, plus four other men who had been left out in the cold since choosing to play their club rugby outside South Africa.
Partly because of last week's Super 14 final between the Bulls and the Stormers, Springboks coach Peter de Villiers opted to give enforced rest to the bulk of his current first-choice players.
No Bryan Habana, arguably the most dangerous wing in world rugby, no Schalk Burger, no Bakkies Botha, Pierre Spies, Fourie du Preez, Morne Steyn, JP Pietersen, Jean de Villiers or Juan Smith.
With just one week to prepare for the Cardiff clash - and disrupted by the enforced withdrawal of the ineligible Bath back Butch James and the injured Andries Bekker - surely South Africa were ripe for the picking?
Wales 'errors' helped Springboks
De Villiers warned pre-match that Wales would find their visitors were "prickly pears" and not so easy to pick.
But after South Africa secured a hard-fought 34-31 win, captain John Smit suggested all that Welsh optimism flying around nearly sent his players 'bananas'.
"They did most of our motivation for us in their talk in the media this week," Smit said.
"I'm pretty sure they would have shown some respect, but they were very vocal so I didn't have to say too much [in his team talk]."
For the first quarter of Saturday's encounter - the 24th between the two sides - it seemed that Wales' confidence was well placed.
An interception try by the outstanding James Hook, picking off Smit's pass, and Stephen Jones' conversion gave Wales a 16-3 lead.
Wales coach Warren Gatland spoke of his "frustration" at the final result, the "missed opportunity" and the "disease" they caught after that to allow the Springboks back into the match.
But the performance of Hook was one thing to bring a smile to the New Zealander's face, not least that fact that the Ospreys centre is now claiming interception tries rather than throwing them.
"It was just great to have him out there. You saw a couple of things today in terms of a pick-up and kick ahead, he was in the right place for the intercept - it's usually him throwing the passes the other way sometimes!" Gatland joked.
Gatland was wryly referring to Hook being picked off by Alexis Palisson in their Six Nations defeat to France last February, just one in a Welsh trend this season for handing tries to the opposition.
Shane Williams gifted Francois Trinh-Duc a try in the same match, fly-half Stephen Jones gave one away in the loss to England, while during the autumn internationals Dan Biggar committed the same sin against Samoa, while Jonathan Davies' kicking howler against Argentina was every bit as bad.
Hook put off shoulder surgery in order to play in this game and he will be sorely missed later this month as Wales travel to New Zealand.
That two-Test series against the All Blacks will give Gatland's side another stern examination against the cream of world rugby, another chance to learn from their mistakes.
Wales' errors against South Africa - while not as glaringly obvious as interception tries - were every bit as damaging as a misplaced pass picked off by the opposition.
Failure to keep the visitors at bay in crucial rucks in the Wales 22 allowed South Africa to hit Wales on turnover ball, catching Gatland's side without the defensive organisation that had impressed in the first quarter.
Wales became penned back in their own half because of their other Achilles' heel - the line-out.
Ospreys wing Tom Prydie became Wales' youngest try scorer
Victor Matfield leapt, quite literally, into action to steal three crucial throws in succession as Wales started to hobble badly.
In fairness there is no better line-out operator in the world than the Bulls captain, a late call-up for this match due to Bekker's injury, but lesser Test locks have also found the Wales throw a tasty target.
That frustrating and all-too-familiar failing cost Wales possession, then territory, the initiative, points and ultimately the match.
However, given how Wales started the match and how strongly they fought back at the end, perhaps the much talked about confidence in the Wales camp survived mainly intact.
South Africa were missing a great many players - and some great players - but even with three debutants on the field could call on around 500 caps worth of experience.
Wales were missing three Lions stars from the 2-1 Test defeat in South Africa, flanker Martyn Williams, wing Shane Williams - Wales' record try scorer - and prop Gethin Jenkins.
What the defeat proved - other than that errors get ruthlessly punished - was that South Africa have incredible strength in depth, but Wales are now not out of their depth when facing the Tri-Nations sides.
"We played the world champions and...you feel like you are not too far away and you are not turning up thinking 'let's hope we have a really good day and they have a really bad day and we've got the chance of causing a major upset'," Gatland said.
"We know that if we play to our potential, are a bit more accurate and clinical, we've got a good chance of winning.
Rossouw pleased with Springboks' character
"There was an opportunity there for us today that unfortunately we didn't take and that's the disappointing thing about that."
Wales have another season to try to add to that strength in depth before the 2011 World Cup and there were encouraging signs in Cardiff.
Young wing Tom Prydie, winning just his second cap, will have learnt more about defensive positioning in 80 minutes than any number of training sessions after his examination at the hands of one of the best kicking sides in Test rugby.
Ruan Pienaar and Francois Steyn targeted the rookie Osprey, peppering him with kicks in behind.
Defensive work aside, Prydie was also able to open his try account for his country and become Wales' youngest try scorer at 18 years and 102 days, overtaking the mark of 18 years and 238 days set by Cardiff wing Tom Pearson in 1891, against England.
Bradley Davies, the 23-year-old Cardiff Blues lock, had another fine game winning his 11th cap.
His rapid progress means that Wales have a crop of locks - including Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans and Luke Charteris - in their mid-20s who should be peaking come the 2011 World Cup.
Saturday's fireworks were just the opening salvo against South Africa that will see Wales face them again in Cardiff next November, before the big showdown in the World Cup pool stages.
The two sides will clash in Wellington on 11 September 2011 and maybe, just maybe, Wales will by then have found the level needed to beat the Springboks for the second time.
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