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Tri-Nations aura arrests Wales development

South Africa's Willem Alberts scores a try

Highlights - Wales 25-29 South Africa

By Sean Davies

Wales had outscored the world champions by three tries to one, had seen a stunning two-score debut from sparkling new teenage talent George North and, in a thrilling finale, had nearly beaten South Africa for just the second time in 104 years of competition.

So why was the prevailing match-day emotion that hung over Cardiff after the 29-25 Springboks defeat simply apathy?

"It's the same old, same old," said a downbeat Wales coach Warren Gatland, the frustration bouncing out of him and sidekicks Shaun Edwards, Rob Howley and Matthew Rees as they faced the media pack.

Since the game went professional, Wales have claimed just three wins over the Tri-Nations sides

"It was a chance for us and I'm proud of the performance and effort, but unfortunately we came up short."

Under Gatland it has now been the same old, same old for two-and-a-half years.

In his first months in charge, the New Zealander shook up a failing Wales squad and incredibly led them to the 2008 Grand Slam, but since then it has been a tale of unfulfilled promise and near misses for the men in red.

Despite his side having lost their last five Tests and nine of their last 11, the coach has retained the belief of his employers, the fans and media, his recent contract extension to 2015 being warmly welcomed.

But perhaps the real danger is that the culture of expected failure is again becoming institutionalised and belief in the side is fading, illustrated by the 20,000-plus vacant seats at the Millennium Stadium for each of the last two games, against Australia and South Africa.

Gatland 'gutted' by defeat

The November Tests against the Tri-Nation superstars are part of the vital lifeblood of the Welsh game, both financially and in terms of the history, even mythology, that has built around the matches.

But how long can that survive given Wales' failures to make the fixtures a competition?

Since the game went professional, Wales have claimed just three wins over the Tri-Nations sides, one against a weakened South Africa in the game to open the Millennium Stadium in 1999, two against transitional post-World Cup Australia teams in Cardiff in Wales' Grand Slam years of 2005 and 2008.

You start to wonder if you're ever going to get over that line... I kicked a few tables over in the changing room

Warren Gatland

The last win against New Zealand was in 1953.

"You start to wonder if you're ever going to get over that line [and claim a major scalp]," said Gatland after the latest South Africa defeat.

"They know how to win at this level, they were under pressure after half-time but they played simply, used their power runners and put us under a lot of pressure.

"I kicked a few tables over in the changing room. Once a win comes it will get easier, but until you actually do it..."

South Africa captain Victor Matfield tried to pinpoint the difference between his side and Wales as he explained how his team had fought back from a 17-6 deficit.

"[The team] showed their character and what it means to them, especially in the last three minutes," said the Springboks' most-capped player after his record-breaking 103rd Test.

"Accuracy was the key to changing the game, at the start of the second half we went out and did things right in the right part of the field, putting them under a lot of pressure.

"Wales can definitely give the All Blacks a game if they stick to the things that they do well."

The Springboks may have character, accuracy and power runners.

But they are also the same team who have lost five times this season, including turning winning positions at home into last-gasp defeats against New Zealand and Australia.

They finished bottom of the Tri-Nations, are missing 13 players from their tour squad, and nearly blew a 14-point lead in the final 15 minutes against Ireland last week.

North enjoys 'awesome' debut

"We've had the experience when we thought we'd won after 80 minutes and then lost it at the end," said Springboks coach Peter de Villiers after the win in Cardiff.

"But I saw how good our defensive organisation was [in the last few minutes], that kept us in the game.

"I'm a very positive person, you only lose a game when the whistle blows."

Wales face New Zealand in Cardiff on 27 November, their last match against Tri-Nations opposition before they open their World Cup campaign against South Africa in Wellington on 11 September.

"They could fire me there could be injuries [before then]," said de Villiers.

"We'll take it one game at a time but confidence levels are very important. That's 10 months away, a lot of things can happen."

The one thing that seems unlikely to happen is for Wales to have gained the confidence that comes with taking a Tri-Nations scalp.

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see also
Wales 25-29 South Africa
13 Nov 10 |  Welsh
Wales 16-25 Australia
06 Nov 10 |  Rugby Union
Williams injury concern deepens
18 Nov 10 |  Welsh
Mighty Boks: South African rugby
01 Oct 08 |  Rugby Union
Wales v South Africa: Full record
28 Sep 06 |  Rugby Union
Wales' rugby fixtures
26 Jun 07 |  Welsh
Wales rugby results archive
15 Oct 03 |  Welsh

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