Two thirds of the Springboks’ Japanese connection combined to produce the moment that effectively snuffed out a Welsh fightback and secure a 24-15 victory at the Millennium Stadium that ensured this tour was started on a positive note.
The South Africans had led 17-6 at one stage of the first half but the Welsh had whittled that advantage down to just two points as the match went into the last quarter of an hour.
The Boks enjoyed most of the territory in the third quarter, yet still Bok supporters would have been made uneasy by the thought that Wales were within one kick of victory in a game dominated by the whistle of referee Alain Rolland.
It was then though that Suntory Goliath scrumhalf Fourie du Preez combined with Jaque Fourie of the Kobelco Steelers to take the edge off the South African nerves.
Du Preez picked up a rolling ball near the halfway line and his quick thinking and aptitude for making the right decisions was advertised by his kick up the left touchline.
Du Preez’s field kicking had been a massive factor in ensuring the Boks led for most of the game, but no kick was more crucial than this one, with Fourie chasing the ball and flipping it inside as he just won the race against an advancing Welsh cover defender.
Du Preez was there to take the inside pass and with no-one inside him he was able to run through untouched in an almost surreal silence to strike the killer blow.
That was it – match over, and “thank you for coming Wales”, for there was never going to be much hope for the game Welsh to overturn a deficit of nine points given that this was yet another of those games where they huffed and puffed a lot and evoked a lot of hubbub in the stands but so seldom looked like scoring a try.
Why the Boks won the game may have been best summed up by a short series of video clips shown on the big screen during one of the many interminable breaks in play in the second half.
It showed Springboks like Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts carrying the ball and knocking back tacklers as they made headway, while the clips of the Welsh players showed them being gang tackled and knocked back.
The Boks didn’t carry the ball nearly as much as Wales, certainly not in the first half of the game, which was perfectly understandable if you consider that a lot of the South African game-plan in this match revolved around their tactical kicking game. But when they did they somehow always looked more likely to make a dent in the Welsh defence.
That should be reflected by a scorecard that shows that the Boks scored three tries to nil, with all the Welsh points coming from the unerring boot of fullback Leigh Halfpenny.
The Springbok ability to be strong in the tackle was probably best illustrated by Bismarck du Plessis’s role in the first try. It came in the 12th minute, when the Welsh were leading 6-3.
Pat Lambie bravely went down for a rolling ball halfway between his 10-metre line and the 22, debutant Frans Malherbe secured it and Du Preez brought Bryan Habana, standing at centre, into the game.
Habana may be getting on a bit of years but he has lost none of his pace, which he showed by scything through the Welsh defence.
Du Plessis was ranging up alongside him when he was eventually checked, and although he had to contend with several would be tacklers, the hooker retained impressive control of the ball before flipping it to skipper Jean de Villiers who slid in next to the posts for the try.
Du Plessis showed a different kind of control later on, as a decision to kick for the lineout rather than for posts came up trumps for the Boks as they mauled up to the line off a Willem Alberts take and Du Plessis swiveled over to make it an 11 point game after 19 minutes.
So much had been expected of Wales by their media and their fans after the role so many of them played in the momentous series win scored by the British and Irish Lions in mid-year.
And to be fair, they carried a lot of high octane into their start, and there was a Welsh bullishness in the air during the emotional pre-match fanfare at this magnificent stadium.
But you could sense the truth dawning at the moment the Boks went 17-6 up that there are still many hard yards to be made by Wales before they can match the likes of South Africa and New Zealand when it comes to mixing physicality with clinical efficiency.
They were let back into the game though by Rolland’s decision to yellow card Bok flanker Francois Louw for his over-robust challenge on long haired Welsh hooker Richard Hibberd five minutes from the end of the opening half.
There was a bit of a momentum shift after that, and although the Welsh never scored while Louw was off the field, you could sense the hosts gaining heart and the game becoming more of a contest while he was off.
Perhaps Louw would have been shown a yellow card at another venue, but the incident did illustrate why at soccer stadiums the crowd don’t get to see replays of contentious incidents on the big screen.
The cacophonous din made by the crowd when they saw Louw thrust his arm at Hibberd’s neck would have demanded a very brave referee to make any other decision than the one that Rolland did make.
Halfpenny had by then drawn the Welsh back with penalties in the 23rd minute and then near the half hour mark, and then there was another in the 54th to cut the score to 17-15. Even though the Boks were playing most of the game in Welsh territory, it was a little tight for comfort, before Du Preez dropped in to have the final say…
Fourie might have been ahead of Du Preez when he kicked the ball, so there could be some complaints from the Welsh critics, but there can’t be too much denying that the Boks, who finished much the stronger of the two teams, were the better combination on the day.
Fourie’s return to the green and gold jersey wasn’t completely without blemish for defensive inaccuracy in the midfield was exposed by an early break by Jonathan Davies, the Welsh centre who joined wing Liam Williams in being replaced because of injury 20 minutes into the game.
There was further disruption to the Welsh when prop Adam Jones followed that pair off the field later, but the Boks had disruption too, with Morne Steyn leaving the field injured straight after converting Du Plessis’ try. That necessitated Lambie moving to flyhalf and Willie le Roux coming on at fullback.
The match was brutal and the injury list mirrored that, but the atmosphere caused by a crowd of nearly 70 000 mostly passionate Welshmen and a good smattering of South Africans wasn’t always matched by the quality of play in a scrappy match.
And Rolland, who sent two props – Gethin Jenkins of Wales and Coenie Oosthuizen of South Africa – to the sinbin on the hour mark after finally losing patience with the exceedingly messy scrums, didn’t help matters.
Not that there were many scrums in the game, with the first one being set as late as the 20th minute. And that’s probably a good thing or the match might have lasted to midnight.
Given how the scrums kept imploding it was hard to judge Malherbe’s debut game, but he was joined in getting off the mark internationally later in the match by Pieter-Steph du Toit. As it was a winning start for both of them, there should be reason for them to smile.
South Africa 24 – Tries: Jean de Villiers, Bismarck du Plessis and Fourie du Preez; Conversions: Morne Steyn 2 and Pat Lambie; Penalty: Morne Steyn.