Wales 22-20 South Africa

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Wales won a third successive test match against South Africa, and a first ever match against the Springboks on foreign soil, in a somewhat bizarre international rugby union spectacle in Washington D.C.

Taking place outside of the approved World Rugby international window, the game saw Wales missing a number of English-based and Scarlets stars, while South Africa were without their Montpellier players and sent an experimental side with a three-test series against England around the corner.

Taking place in a part of America where the NHL Ice Hockey Stanley Cup was also being played that night, and that isn’t renowned for it’s links to rugby (it has no Major League Rugby side), the event was always going to be a slightly odd one.

Add in some decidedly dodgy television coverage from a local broadcasting company acting on behalf of Channel 4, and a thunderstorm overhead, and you have all the makings of the oddest test match in a generation.

Warren Gatland had decided to include a few different faces in his starting XV, with the British and Irish Lions and English-based players left at home, while a number of Scarlets players were not considered for this game.

Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland mixed things up for the game

Cardiff Blues scrum-half Tomos Williams made his debut, Tom Prydie was named in a Wales team for the first time since June 2013, Ellis Jenkins captained the side for the first time while it was an all-change front row of Nicky Smith, Elliott Dee and Dillon Lewis.

There were also changes as George North lined up at outside centre, and Hallam Amos was given the 15 jersey, while Aaron Wainwright was included in a Wales side for the first time on the replacements bench.

In the Washington D.C rain it was a dour opening half hour at the Robert F Kennedy Stadium, as the game lurched from mistake to mistake via a plethora of scrums along the way. Gareth Anscombe missed a penalty, Elton Jantjies nailed his to make it 0-3 after 30 minutes.

However, it only takes a moment to throw a test match wide open, and that moment came from first-time captain Ellis Jenkins.

The Cardiff Blues flanker was quick to notice the ball out of a ruck in the South Africa half and snaffled possession before trading passes with Hadleigh Parkes, on for the injured Steff Evans, before Hallam Amos was on hand to crash over for his first international since the 2017 Autumn Series.

Hallam Amos SA
Hallam Amos opened the try scoring

Anscombe converted and was back on the tee five minutes later after an excellent Welsh try worked off the fly-half himself making a line break on the kick return.

Although he should have passed to Amos, Wales didn’t panic and recycled the ball well, working the blindside thanks to the swift hands of Cory Hill, Elliott Dee and Seb Davies before George North carried close to the try line.

Tomos Williams took the ball from the back of the breakdown before rolling and bouncing his way over the line for a debut try. Anscombe converted again and suddenly Wales had a 14-3 advantage with half-time looming.

South Africa tried to come back into the game after Wales infringed in midfield, but Ellis Jenkins produced a wonderful turnover on his own five metre line and Warren Gatland’s men went in ahead at the break.

Tomos Williams SA
Tomos Williams capped his debut with a try

Half-time seemed to galvanise the Springboks though, as they came out with a step up in defensive intensity, and bagged their first try of the game when Wales tried to attack from deep and Travis Ismaiel intercepted Amos’ pass to run under the posts with Jantjies converting.

Wales responded well, with Anscombe kicking a penalty to restore the seven-point lead, before Owen Watkin’s knock-on squandered a clear try scoring opportunity after a fine Ross Moriarty line break.

Unfortunately it was the men in red shooting themselves in the foot once again that saw the next points go on the board, as Owen Watkin deliberately batted the ball away over his own dead ball line after a dangerous South African chip kick, and promptly earned himself a yellow card.

Although referee Cardey did not opt to award a penalty try, the Springboks were after seven points and went for the scrum. Pulling defenders in with tight phases they eventually spun the ball wide and Makazole Mapimpi scored in the corner. Jantjies kicked the conversion to draw the scores level on the hour mark.

South Africa continued to press for the remainder of the sin-bin period, but Wales held out well and then substitutions disrupted the flow of the game until into the final 10 minutes in Washington.

Seb Davies SA
Seb Davies carries against South Africa

Replacement kicker Robert Du Preez edged the Springboks back into the lead with a penalty as a final five minutes was set up.

However, it was disaster for South Africa as the ever hard working Tomos Williams charged down two successive clearance kicks, with Ryan Elias managing to flop on the loose ball in the in-goal area after the second charge down for a match winning try.

There was just time for Ellis Jenkins to produce one last turnover to deny South Africa any opportunity to launch a comeback, and Wales kicked off the 2018 summer tour with a 22-20 win in Washington D.C.

Ryan Elias SA
Ryan Elias scores after Tomos Williams became the king of chargedowns

Was it a classic? Absolutely not. Will it be remembered for all the wrong reasons? Absolutely. Most importantly though, did it make the Welsh Rugby Union a decent amount of money? Yes it did. Ah, modern rugby!

Playing-wise, I don’t think Warren Gatland will have learnt a huge amount from this outing, other than some players really needed to shake off some post-season cobwebs, and Ellis Jenkins is one of the greatest rugby players to walk the earth.

A significant improvement is required before Wales take on Argentina next week, but with Scarlets and English-based reinforcements on the way, hopefully we can step up to meet the challenge of the South Americans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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