Wales find their leader but can't overcome biggest problem against South Africa

Well, it wasn't the blow out we all expected but ultimately South Africa's power game did for Wales at Twickenham as Warren Gatland's men fell to a 41-13 defeat, their seventh in a row.

Wales were expected to finish up on the end of a heavy loss against the Springboks but they fought hard to keep the scoreboard respectable. Gatland's men showed signs of real promise while there were a handful of strong individual performances, but they were made to pay for their inaccuracies and the fact they do not possess a functioning scrum.

Dewi Lake scored Wales' only try, while Sam Costelow kicked eight points but the Springboks ran in four tries of their own courtesy of Jesse Kriel, Makazole Mapimpi and Edwill van der Merwe. Rugby correspondent Steffan Thomas gives his verdict on Wales' latest defeat.

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Wales show character but not clinical enough

Most people expected Wales to roll over at Twickenham but Gatland's men had other ideas. After the Springboks powered into an early 14-3 lead it looked as if a hiding really was on the cards, but this young and inexperienced Wales team showed real grit.

There are still areas of Wales' game which are in desperate need of ironing out but there were signs of improvement.

Gatland's men asked questioned of South Africa's defence, working overlaps on a few occasions, but more importantly they stuck in the fight. There were signs Wales' attack was beginning to work and spending a significant period of time on tour will benefit them in this regard.

Unfortunately, when playing against the world champions you simply have to take all your chances to stand a chance. Wales butchered a try early doors after Liam Williams intercepted a loose pass before offloading to Mason Grady, but debutant scrum-half Ellis Bevan spilled the ball forward with the try line at his mercy.

Gatland's men also enjoyed a period of pressure camped in the Springboks 22 on a few occasions during the second-half and were held up over the line once, but failed to come away with any points. This young Wales side are succeeding at building pressure and creating chances but are failing at turning it into points.

There were also some sloppy errors which proved costly, with Grady overrunning Owen Watkin on one occasion while Sam Costelow inexplicably kicked the ball dead from a penalty which would most likely have given his side an attacking lineout five metres out. But at least they have something to build on in Australia because there were some some signs of promise.

Nightmare start

If Wales were to have any chance of causing an upset they simply had to start the game strongly, but the first 13 minutes was the stuff of nightmares. They were caught too narrow in defence when South Africa worked an overlap to put Jesse Kriel over for the opening score but they were soon down to 14 men with Rio Dyer given his marching orders for a professional foul.

They were 14-3 down in no time after the Springboks were awarded a penalty try and, to make matters worse, they had to play six minutes of the first-half with 13 men after Aaron Wainwright received a yellow card for illegally sacking a maul.

Wales could not have made a worst start at Twickenham with South Africa's first try exploiting Gatland's side for being far too passive and narrow in defence.

You simply cannot start a Test match as poorly and expect to win.

Scrum remains a problem which has to be fixed

Predictably, Wales' biggest Achilles heel at Twickenham was the scrum as they were put under huge pressure by the Springboks in this area. South Africa's go-to weapon was the set-piece and Wales were heavily penalised in this area, although to their credit they got better as the game wore on.

It must be noted that South Africa are capable of destroying the very best of opposition but Gatland himself singled out the scrum as an area he wasn't happy with during the Six Nations. Moving forward, Wales have to make fixing the scrum a priority because if you haven't got a functioning set-piece then your chances of winning Test matches plummet.

While Wales scrambled hard in defence this is also an area which they need to get better as they were caught on the outside far too often. At the end of the day, for all their fight, they did concede 41 points. It's also worth noting they lost the second-half 27-0, not scoring a single point after the break.

Jesse Kriel of South Africa celebrates with team mate Alphele Fassi after scoring
Jesse Kriel of South Africa celebrates with team mate Alphele Fassi after scoring -Credit:2024 Getty Images

Dragons partnership prove doubters wrong and Plumtree is the blindside Gatland wants

Pre-game, the biggest concern surrounding Wales was the inexperience at lock with just 12 caps between Ben Carter and Matthew Screech. Yes, South Africa's pack held the ascendancy but neither player let Wales down.

Carter was used as a lineout option while he also put in a big shift around the park, refusing to be bullied by an aggressive Springboks pack. The 23-year-old also put in a huge defensive shift, finishing the game as top tackler with 16 while he carried hard.

He's not the finished product but he came up against the world's best and wasn't found wanting. Carter has been highly regarded in Welsh rugby circles for a long time but this was his best game in a red shirt.

There were also huge concerns over whether Screech would be up to the demands of international rugby but he did not disgrace himself against the world champions putting in a workmanlike performance.

Gatland has long yearned for a big athletic physical blindside and it looks as if he has finally found his man. Taine Plumtree still has lots to learn at this level but there is a huge amount of growth in him. The Scarlets man was physical throughout and brought huge energy putting in 13 tackles.

Wales need to stick with him because he has the potential of developing into a top Test player.

Has Lake nailed down the captaincy?

On Thursday Dewi Lake sat down to chat with the press and it was evident he was not going to get dragged down by the negativity surrounding this Wales side. Lake is a competitor and was not in the slightest bit overawed at the prospect of going head-to-head with arguably the world's best hooker Malcolm Marx.

The 25-year-old is a player who embraces any challenge, no matter how hard, and meets it head on. More importantly his enthusiasm and never-say-die attitude has the habit of rubbing off on his team mates.

Lake is a natural leader of men and was one of the only Wales players consistently winning the collisions. Recently Gatland pointed out how much Wales missed Lake's ability to make considerable post-contact metres and the Ospreys star was outstanding in this regard at Twickenham.

Wales are building a strong leadership group in Lake, Dafydd Jenkins and the injured Jac Morgan, but the powerful hooker is probably the right option as captain.