CAPE TOWN, June 2 – Rassie Erasmus’ tenure as the new Springbok coach started out in defeat as his side went down 22-20 to Wales in an international friendly at the Robert F Kennedy Stadium, Washington DC, USA, on Saturday evening.
Wales led 14-3 at the break but the Boks clawed their way back into the match to take a 20-17 lead, eight minutes from the end. However, Wales snatched the game with a freak try near the end to regain the lead and hold on for a close-shave win.
The earlier rains at the venue made for spoiling conditions as players battled to hold on to the slippery ball. As a result, the teams battled to strike up early cohesion as movements broke down in what was largely a stop-start affair in the opening 20 minutes.
The Boks enjoyed the upper hand in the early scrums but were unable to capitalise as the Welsh defence smothered their efforts effectively. Several scrums had to be reset and referee Matthew Carley of England frequently tried to address the matter by briefing the front rows.
In the 17th minute, Bok flyhalf Elton Jantjies opened the scoring with a 35m penalty after Wales infringed at breakdown play (3-0).
Just on the half-hour mark Wales’ slick handling inside the Boks’ 22m area resulted in a try by fullback Hallam Amos. Flyhalf Gareth Anscombe struck the conversion well from the touchline to give a 7-3 lead.
The Boks’ defence was caught napping again four minutes later when Wales scrumhalf Tomos Williams slipped two close-in tackling attempts and dived over for his side’s second try. Anscombe converted to push the lead out to 14-3.
For the rest of the half, the Boks enjoyed a fair share of possession but failed to make headway mainly as their attacking sorties lacked the variation to open the opposition defence and the teams changed ends with Wales leading 14-3.
The early second-half pressure paid dividends for the Boks when rightwing Travis Ismaiel brought off an intercept inside the Welsh 22m area and raced in for a try. Jantjies converted to reduce the deficit to four points in the 44th minute (14-10).
Four minutes later, the New Zealand-born Anscombe was on target with a penalty to open up a 7-point lead (17-10).
In the 55th minute, Wales centre Owen Watkin was sin-binned for a professional foul and the Boks made good their numerical advantage with a converted Makazole Mapimpi try after a strong scrum from a penalty in front of the posts (17-17).
The raft of personnel changes in the Boks line-up which preceded the try by leftwing Mapimpi seemed to inject a fresh sense of urgency in their ranks and in the ensuing stages, Wales was forced to settle for a largely defensive role in their own half.
The Boks did enough to go further ahead in the 65th minute but Wales averted further damage by shoving Ismaiel out at the corner flag.
A 72nd scrum penalty for the Boks broke the 17-all deadlock as substitute Robert du Preez goaled a penalty for a slender 20-17.
Wales struck back almost immediately from the restart when a Du Preez kick from inside his in-goal area was charged down and replacement hooker Ryan Elias was handily placed to dive on the stray ball for a freak unconverted try which given the late stage of the game, looked like a matchwinning touchdown (22-20).
And that’s the way it turned out as the Boks hashed their last-gasp attempt to save the match by failing to hold on to possession in an attack out wide.
Scorers: South Africa 20 (3): Tries: Travis Ismaiel, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2) Penalties: Jantjies, Robert du Preez
Wales 22 (14): Tries: Hallam Amos, Tomos Williams, Ryan Elias Conversions: Gareth Anscombe (2) Penalty: Anscombe
– African News Agency (ANA)