Boks break Cardiff drought
MATCH REPORT: South Africa won their first game in Cardiff for almost a decade, when they edged Wales 23-18 in a bruising arm-wrestle at a wet Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Malcolm Marx scored the only try of the match – from a rolling maul inside the final 10 minutes – as the Springboks won in the Welsh capital for the first time since 2013.
Dan Biggar’s boot kept Wales in the lead for the best part of the game, but the Boks’ famed bomb squad saved the day with their power play in the second half.
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Wales were 18-15 ahead when hooker Marx was driven over from a close-range line-out with seven minutes left at a rainswept stadium.
Replacement Elton Jantjies then rounded off South Africa’s first victory in five Tests away to Wales with a last-minute penalty.
Wales were earlier denied a try in bizarre fashion when, with the scores level at 15-all, replacement back Liam Williams, looking to go in at the corner in the 65th minute, had his path blocked by a pitch invader.
All of Wales’ points came via six Dan Biggar penalties.
Opposing flyhalf Handre Pollard kicked four penalties, with replacement Frans Steyn also landing a long-range effort for the Springboks.
Wales made six changes to the side thrashed 54-16 by New Zealand in their end-of-year opener in Cardiff last weekend.
In the backs, wing Louis Rees-Zammit and fly-half Biggar returned after their England-based clubs refused to release them for an All Blacks match outside World Rugby’s designated window.
Up front, flank Ellis Jenkins, in for the sidelined Ross Moriarty, made his first Wales appearance in three years since suffering a serious knee injury during a 2018 win over the Springboks.
Meanwhile, Will Rowlands replaced Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones after the veteran lock suffered a shoulder injury against New Zealand that will require surgery.
Experienced centre Jonathan Davies led Wales in Jones’ absence.
South Africa made three changes to their backline from the side that beat New Zealand in the Rugby Championship last month, with Damian Willemse at fullback and Jesse Kriel on the right wing.
Herschel Jantjies starting at scrumhalf in place of injured World Cup winner Francois de Klerk in the final change to the side that beat the All Blacks 31-29.
With the stadium’s retractable roof left open to combat the spread of COVID-19 and the rain lashing down, it was no surprise that both sides deployed the high kick.
But Biggar’s long pass almost sent in Rees-Zammit at the right corner only for South Africa captain Siya Kolisi to bundle the wing into touch with a superb try-saving tackle.
Biggar kicked Wales into the lead with a 10th-minute penalty only for Pollard to equalise soon afterwards.
Wales went 6-3 up through Biggar’s boot before Willemse left the field for a head injury assessment, with Steyn coming on.
South Africa, starting to exert dominance at the scrum, levelled the match at 6-6 through Pollard’s second penalty.
Biggar landed a third penalty and was on target again after South Africa were reduced to 14 men when prop Ox Nche was yellow-carded for obstruction on centre Nick Tompkins.
Wales too were a man down before the break, prop Rhys Carre penalised for entering the maul from the side, before Pollard’s penalty on the stroke of the interval left the hosts 12-9 up.
Early in the second half, South Africa deployed their ‘bomb squad’, as the Springboks’ replacement front-row are known, with Marx, Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch looking to give the visitors a fresh edge.
More Springbok indiscipline allowed Biggar to extend Wales’ lead with a penalty from half-way only for the impressive Steyn to surpass that effort with a 54-metre goal.
South Africa’s pack forced a scrum penalty and Pollard tied the scores at 15-15 heading into the last quarter.
But when it seemed Wales might score the game’s first try, a pitch invader somehow got on the field to block Williams out on the left wing.
Biggar’s sixth penalty nudged Wales 18-15 ahead.
The Springboks thought they had a try through wing Makazole Mapimpi but the score was disallowed for offside, not that it mattered in the end.
Wales are at home to Fiji next weekend, when South Africa face Scotland in Edinburgh.
Man of the match: Many will talk about Frans Steyn, with his runs and kicking. There was Suyamthanda Kolisi, who truly had a captain’s innings. Our award goes to Springbok flank Albertus Smith, for his carries, tackles and in particular the crucial turnovers.
Moment of the match: There were 12 penalties – six on each side. The defining moment was the Malcolm Marx try seven minutes from time.
Villain: The lunatic that ran onto the field late in the second half and caused an unwanted disruption. It may well have prevented a possible Wales try.
Pens: Biggar 6
For South Africa
Pens: Pollard 4, Steyn, Jantjies
Yellow card: Retshegofaditswe Nché (South Africa, 31 – foul play, obstruction), Rhys Carré (Wales, 36 – repeated infringements, illegal entry at maul)
Wales: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Rhys Carré.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Roberts, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 WillGriff John, 19 Ben Carter, 20 Seb Davies, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Liam Williams.
South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Albertus Smith, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nché.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)