An experimental Springbok side was expected to be rusty in the opening Test of the year, but at times they really looked worryingly mediocre in going down 22-20 to Wales in Washington on Saturday night.
It was a third consecutive loss for South Africa against the Dragons as Rassie Erasmus’ charges failed to summon the required intensity and execution to pull off a win.
Minutes after he put the Boks ahead 20-17 with a penalty, replacement flyhalf Robert du Preez had a kick charged down on his own goalline for Wales to score the match-winner through replacement hooker Ryan Elias with four minutes left on the clock.
In retrospect, the Boks lost this game in the first 40 minutes, a half that struggled to get going as countless scrums were reset and the ball lost in contact numerous times due to the wet underfoot conditions.
Wales capitalised on their limited opportunities to lead 14-3 as South Africa delivered what can only be described as a stale performance.
Things went better in the second half but barring a few good individual performances from the likes of lock Jason Jenkins, hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle and centre Andre Esterhuizen, there was little to get excited about.
Who was the star in this match?
There were few highlights, especially the first half, but centre Andre Esterhuizen caught the eye with a great break and chip forward as early as the second minute, while a crunching tackle from the big Sharks centre created the opportunity for wing Travis Ismaiel to pounce for the Boks’ first try.
Key moments and themes
- Poor Springbok execution and vital missed tackles led to the Wales tries scored in the 32nd minute by fullback Hallom Amos and scrumhalf Tomos Williams three minutes later. First, centre Jesse Kriel failed to clear a ruck ball, while Williams twisted and turned himself out of three tackles. That type of defending simply isn’t good enough.
- The scrums were a bit of a mess in the first half, contributing to the stop-start nature of the opening 40 minutes. Referee Matthew Carley had to talk to the Boks’ loosehead Ox Nche and Wales’ Dillyn Lewis to open up more space before engaging. In fact, that lecture was a reflection of the young Nche’s Test debut, one he’d rather forget. He was also guilty of shooting out of the defensive line too early.
- The Boks finally scored their opening try in the 43rd minute when Ismaiel scored an intercept on debut but the moment was really created from a great tackle from centre Andre Esterhuizen which created the opportunity. South Africa really could’ve done with more of that type of accurate, suffocating defence.
- South Africa fought their way back to level the scores at 17-all in the 59th minute after wing Makazole Mapimpi also scored on debut, but it was really another impressive maul which set up the score. Esterhuizen was again prominent. The Boks had scored that try following a yellow card for Welsh centre Owen Watkin yet simply couldn’t build enough scoreboard pressure to tame their opponents in his absence.
Wales – Tries: Hallam Amos, Tomos Williams, Ryan Elias. Conversions: Gareth Anscombe (2). Penalty: Anscombe.
South Africa – Tries: Travis Ismaiel, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalties: Jantjies, Robert du Preez.