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Mark Gardner – Live from South Africa


There's 78 minutes on the clock and Wales are down by 6.  Not enough time to snatch two penalties to even the game, or even the desire to share the spoils.  With the opening Test ripped from our grasps in the dying embers of last week's battle of Loftus, only the full victory will take the Series to a decider.

In a drab game where focus drifted more to the eclectic selections of break-in-play music (as if they had time for any more than one verse of Bohemian Rhapsody), it seemed another missed opportunity for the nearly men.  An unusually profligate kicking performance by Dan Biggar suggested we'd missed the chance of sneaking the win by 3.  Yet, fate played its part and the patience of Wales – enhanced by a robust clean-sheet defence – offered up a penalty advantage play in Springboks territory.

Give Josh Adams an inch and he'll take a mile, doing exactly that with a burst in the corner that narrowed the difference to a point.  Cue Gareth Anscombe – 1/2 thus far – to kick the advertising hoardings back as he lined up his acute angled conversion.  With previous in the Challenge Cup Final in Bilbao 2028, it was never in doubt for the fly-half,  thumping a deadly swipe through the uprights to both delirium, disbelief and cwtches with anyone within a 20ft radius, including truly magnanimous Springbok supporters.  

Winning ugly gave us precious World Rugby ranking points and took us up to 8th.  Moreover, the tour dynamic changed, as did the WhatsApps from curious fans enquiring on late-availability trips for the finale at Cape Town Stadium.
Rugby aside, the spring goes back in the step.  More beers were sunk post-game, new energy arising in fatigued travel bodies, permutations thrown around the drinking circles and a contribution to the northern hemisphere's clean sweep on a surprising day of summer rugby.

What's lost on the rugby field is to South Africa Tourism's gain.  The mood change is palpable – every tour operator's dream.  The countdown to Saturday begins, allowing us to dial in to squad updates daily and measure the bravery of Nienebar's selection plan.   Will he revert to type, or back the next wave?  Will our settled team (albeit with a few banged up motors), have enough in the tank to see out another 80?  Cue Wainwright, Reffell, Zammit and Rowlands making up the new brigade and suddenly the youthful exuberance enhances the maturity of the nine 50-cap plus boys.  If AWJ can avoid another yellow, it may settle a few nerves amongst the management and fans.

Until then it's wine tasting in Stellenbosch, olive munching in Riebeek-Kasteel, Table Mountain, Robben Island, Cape Peninsular and whatever tempting menus the Waterfront can throw at us.  We'll leave this beautiful country with empty wallets and big smiles, grateful for the opportunity of being able to get back touring and making new friendships around the rugby fraternity.  Flying home on BA next week with a Series victory would make that long haul journey one to remember.

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