Wales 20-11 South Africa: Warren Gatland's side end November unbeaten
By Michael Cantillon at the Principality Stadium
Last Updated: 24/11/18 8:23pm
Tries from Tomas Francis and Liam Williams, plus the boots of Gareth Anscombe and replacement Dan Biggar, ensured Wales registered a 20-11 success over South Africa at a relieved Principality Stadium on Saturday.
Despite racing into an early 14-0 lead and facing a South African side riddled with errors on the day, Wales allowed the Boks to gain an ascendancy in the Test throughout the middle part of the match, as a Jesse Kriel try and penalties from Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies brought the visitors back to 14-11.
Two late penalties from Biggar gave Wales the margin of comfort they required to get over the line in front of 64,208 in Cardiff, however, and register a fourth win from four November Tests for the first time this century.
Having lost to the Boks for 16 Tests in succession between 1999 and 2014, Wales have now beaten South Africa four times in a row, and five times from the last six meetings.
Both sides experienced late disruption during the build-up, as Wales lost flanker Dan Lydiate to an elbow injury, with Cardiff Blues backrow Ellis Jenkins coming in to start and 21-year-old Dragons flanker Aaron Wainwright brought onto the bench.
For the Springboks, wing S'bu Nkosi was ruled out so late with a leg injury his replacement Cheslin Kolbe couldn't even change his jersey, donning the 23 shirt from the kick-off.
And on four minutes Kolbe was involved as the visitors thought they might be over for the first score of the day - the Toulouse wing showing magnificent feet to step through a gap, after which Willie Le Roux produced a long pass out to Pieter-Steph Du Toit on the left wing, who demonstrated fantastic dynamism to scorch down the flank and over the tryline.
Assistant referee Karl Dickson was on hand to raise his flag as the flanker put a foot in touch, however, cutting the Boks' joy short.
In a frantic beginning to the Test, full of offloads, handling errors and both sides playing on knock on advantages frequently, it was Wales who struck the opening points.
After 10 minutes, Wales capitalised on the nine phases of pressure they exerted in the Bok 22 when Jenkins - who was not even meant to start the game - threw a dummy to round hooker Malcolm Marx, break the line and offload inside to tighthead prop Francis under the challenge of Le Roux.
The try was Francis' first ever score for his country.
Just six minutes later, the home side were over for their second score, and once again it had its roots in sustained 22 pressure and a dummy to unlock the South Africa defence.
Out-half Anscombe threw a dummy to glide past Marx again and, when the ball proved unplayable deep in the Bok 22 after 11 phases, Wales had a scrum in a wonderfully attacking position - a position from which they would strike for a second try.
Jenkins, playing at No 8 with Ross Moriarty off for a HIA, fed scrum-half Davies, who in turn found Anscombe. The Kiwi-born 10 then sent a looping pass over wing Aphiwe Dyantyi, who had been sucked in too far off his wing, offering full-back Williams space to finish a chance he was never going to miss.
Despite the efforts of Kriel, Siya Kolisi and Pollard on the cover defence - the Saracens man stepped inside the former two, and rode the challenge of the latter to ground the ball.
On 20 minutes, South Africa had their first points of the day as Wales second row Adam Beard was caught offside near halfway while charging down an Embrose Papier box-kick. Pollard produced a superb strike from distance to make it 14-3.
Four minutes later, Anscombe missed touch with a penalty from hand for the second time in the opening stages, and his error was soon compounded when Marx earned a breakdown penalty. Pollard missed off the tee, though, hooking it wide to the left to let Wales off the hook themselves.
Near the half-hour mark, Bok prop Steven Kitshoff was pinged for failing to release at the breakdown, but Anscombe hit the post off the tee from 44 metres or so - failing to add points as Pollard had just minutes earlier.
While the final 10 minutes of the half saw no further points scored, it contained three moments of significance.
Firstly, when South Africa No 8 Duane Vermeulen dived off feet at the ruck and Anscombe found touch with the penalty, 14 phases of Welsh attack in the Bok 22 came to nothing when Marx produced a huge steal - his third breakdown turnover of the match.
The Boks then should have notched their first try of the game two minutes before the break, as Papier broke down the blindside off a messy lineout, kicked past North - who did just enough to interfere with the Bok scrum-half without giving away a penalty - but knocked on as he went to regather his kick five metres from the Wales line.
The Boks earned a free kick at the resultant scrum though, tapping and attacking the line with great pace before Kriel looked to dive over and ground the ball.
But on review with the TMO, it was apparent Wales flanker Jenkins had done remarkably well to force his arm under the ball and avoid it touching the grass, holding it up in a monumental piece of defensive work.
The Boks still had a five-metre attacking scrum in dead time of the first period, and after playing away off it, earned a penalty with Wales offside under the posts.
Captain Kolisi and co declined a shot at goal for what would have been a certain three points in favour of another attacking scrum, and it proved the wrong decision when the Boks were forced backwards and Jenkins ended the half four minutes into the red with a breakdown penalty - concluding a sensational 40 minutes for the flanker individually.
The Springboks began the second half in a similar vein to how they ended the first, attacking with intensity. But when Pollard broke the line to enter the Wales 22, the ball was lost forward when Elton Jantjies went into contact and Marx looked to clean out.
A second Bok fumble in the Wales 22 followed from Du Toit, as South Africa continued to release the proverbial pressure valve off the Welsh.
A scrum penalty against the head on 53 minutes allowed Rassie Erasmus' charges to remain in the right area, however, and when Jantjies kicked to touch, a second penalty followed when Wales collapsed a rolling maul.
Kicking to the corner again, Wales defended the maul legally on this occasion, but it was brief respite when Kriel went over in the corner after a brilliantly incisive Le Roux pass eight phases later. Pollard missed the conversion to leave the score 14-8.
Jantjies did put three more points onto the South Africa total via a penalty on the hour mark, though, after replacement Thomas du Toit jackaled well over the ball, reducing the gap to three points and setting up a fascinating last quarter.
Justin Tipuric earned a vital breakdown penalty for Wales in the South Africa 22 on 67 minutes, allowing Biggar to kick a fabulous effort which just held its line for Wales' first points of the second half, returning the lead to a six-point one.
With eight minutes left, Biggar kicked three more points off the tee when South Africa played the nine at the ruck after Jon Davies had broken the line to gain territory in the Bok 22.
The nine-point lead was to prove an unassailable one as Wales ended their November campaign on a high with a clean sweep of four victories.
Man of the match Jenkins, who had performed so brilliantly, was stretched off with a serious-looking knee injury after the full-time whistle, taking some sheen off the win.