Analysis: Wales defeated but unbowed

This Wales team are many things, but they are never beaten.

This Wales team are many things, but they are never beaten.

Even in defeat to South Africa, they defied expectations and twice came back in a game that looked to be slipping away from them.

As they had done in the Guinness Six Nations against England, they were able to weather a storm and come out the other end. That day they trailed 10-3 and looked to be on the rack before roaring back.

This time the challenge was just too big, in the image of the Springbok pack, one of the largest collections of human beings you will ever see.

There will be no rematch with England in Yokohama.

But Wales came very close. In a match that turned into an arm-wrestle very early on, Wales’ uncanny ability to prevail in tight matches almost reared its head once more.

That seemed unlikely towards the end of the first half when the South African scrum and maul was starting to impose its will.

At 9-3 it felt a long way back. After all, this Springbok team had conceded just one try in their previous nine halves of rugby.

Wales were clinical though, Dan Biggar slotting a penalty either side of half-time before South Africa got the game’s first try.

When Damian de Allende slipped three tackles, again it would have been easy for Wales to crumble.

But this team refuse.

They got a penalty in kickable territory, took the bold choice of kicking to the corner, and were rewarded with an even more kickable shot, barely ten metres out.

It was then that Alun Wyn Jones showed the Springboks just what he was about. Rather than taking the three, making the easy call, Jones called for a scrum. That would seem bold at the best of times, let alone with your first-choice tighthead off injured before half-time and having already been under the pump at scrum-time.

It worked a charm though, Ross Moriarty digging to retrieve the ball from the scrum before Tomos Williams and Jonathan Davies combined to put Josh Adams in for his sixth try of the tournament.

Leigh Halfpenny’s touchline conversion was immaculate and again Wales were back in it.

At that stage, they even felt the more likely winners. That is what Gatland has done during his time in charge. His double act with Jones is typical of the side, they bend but never break.

They had their chances, they got back into South African territory, Rhys Patchell had a speculative drop goal attempt.

The quarter-final defeat four years ago was there to be avenged.

It was not to be. A crucial Francois Louw turnover got the Springboks back on the front foot, and from there the power told.

Gatland’s dream of a symmetrical finish to his Wales career was ended.

“My first game was against England, the dream was for my last game to be against them, it’s not to be.”

Instead it will be New Zealand, the only team he has not beaten with Wales. The three-time champions will be hurting after their reign was ended by England.

Wales, meanwhile, have one day less to recover, and a couple more injuries to tend to. It feels like everything is stacked up against them.

And yet under Gatland and Jones, and with this group of players, if you write them off then you haven’t been watching closely enough.