Autumn internationals: Wales v South AfricaWales (21) 24Tries: S Williams, Parkes 2 Cons: Halfpenny 3 Pens: HalfpennySouth Africa (10) 22Tries: Gelant, Pollard, Kriel Cons: Pollard 2 Pens: Pollard
Wales survived a remarkable comeback to end their autumn series with a nail-biting win over South Africa.
Two tries by and one for Scott Williams saw Wales lead 21-3 after 30 minutes.
Warrick Gelant’s try before half-time changed the momentum and Handre Pollard and Jesse Kriel’s touchdowns after the break edged the Springboks ahead.
But Leigh Halfpenny’s 66th-minute penalty clinched a nervy win for Wales, just their fourth over South Africa.
It was a third consecutive home win for Warren Gatland’s team against the Springboks, but they had to work for it.
The nerve-shredding finish seemed unlikely when Wales scored two tries in the opening eight minutes, with South Africa looking a shambles in defence.
But encouraged by a try against the run of play late in the opening half, South Africa were a team revived after the interval.
Wales started with only eight of the players who played in the opening autumn Test defeat against Australia and with New Zealand-born Parkes – who was named man of the match – making his debut on the day he qualified by residency.
After recovering their composure, the Springboks – dominant in the scrum and maul – scored 19 unanswered points, with flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit impressing.
But the tourists’ second defeat of the autumn heaps pressure on coach Allister Coetzee and relieves some of the heat that was gathering for Gatland.
Wales exposed chaotic Springbok defence in a frantic opening, fly-half Dan Biggar exploiting a narrow defence with a kick into the grateful arms of wing Hallam Amos, whose inside pass sent Williams over.
More shambolic attempts at catching high kicks saw Wales build another attacking platform and Biggar’s grubber was brilliantly picked up and touched down by Parkes with the defence nowhere.
South Africa managed to create a bridgehead with their scrum and maul, but offered little behind their pack and were 21-3 down just after half an hour when Biggar charged down Kriel’s ponderous clearance kick, allowing Taulupe Faletau to throw a scoring pass to Parkes.
South Africa produced a brilliant try when wing Dillyn Leyds exposed a tired-looking kick chase and Kriel’s kick through was touched down by Gelant.
It meant Gatland’s side were 21-11 ahead at the interval – yet that was not a full reflection of Wales’ dominance.
Springboks bite back
South Africa were a different team after the break, despite the loss of captain Eben Etzebeth to injury at half-time.
They troubled Wales by playing with greater pace, and Pollard’s try continued the revival before Kriel put them ahead in the 55th minute.
Had Pollard not hit the post with the conversion of his own try, Wales could have been in bigger trouble.
But the home side clawed their way back, with British and Irish Lions scrum-half Rhys Webb making an impact off the bench and Halfpenny making no mistake when called upon to save the day.
Man of the match – Hadleigh Parkes
Wales coach Warren Gatland: “I suppose there’s a bit of relief after that. We started so well, looked comfortable, but the five minutes before half-time and the five after weren’t our best.
“I’m pleased, what with the injuries we’ve had and the way we’ve tried to be positive. There’s a lot we can take out of it. Yes, it was nail-biting but that’s what Test rugby is about.
“We didn’t get a penalty until the 58th minute and that made it tough to get momentum.”
South Africa flanker Siya Kolisi: “We’re very disappointed, the way we started today wasn’t good enough and we didn’t have the patience.
“We have to be more disciplined at the end of the game and not make silly mistakes.
“We have to be better than this next year.”
Wales: Halfpenny; Amos, S Williams, Parkes, S Evans; Biggar, A Davies; R Evans, Dacey, Andrews; Hill, A W Jones; Shingler, Navidi, Faletau.
Replacements: Dee, W Jones, R Jones, S Davies, Lydiate, Webb, Patchell, Watkin.
South Africa: Coetzee; Leyds, Kriel, Venter, Gelant; Pollard, Cronje; Kitshoff, Marx, Louw, Etzebeth, De Jager, Kolisi, Du Toit, Du Preez.
Replacements:Mbonambi, Nyakane, Dreyer, Mohoje, Cassiem, Schreuder, Jantjies, Am.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England) & Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)