Wales 24-22 South Africa. Poor play marks final autumn international with teams ravaged by injuries. By David Nicholson at the Millennium Stadium
WALES ended the autumn internationals with a narrow win on Saturday against a poor Springbok side, who pushed the home team all the way.
This was a battle of the reserves as both sides were ravaged by injuries and unavailable players.
Man of the match Hadleigh Parkes snaffled two tries on his debut to mark a successful step up to international rugby.
On the day that Parkes made residency for Wales he was awarded a cap and repaid his coach with a brace of tries.
If Parkes is tempted to think that Test match rugby is easy, it has to be said that this was a very poor South African side and one which Wales struggled to put away.
Wales were dominant in the first half as they ran in three tries as fly-half Dan Biggar sliced open the Bok defence with precision kicks behind them for the first two tries.
The tactic worked to such an extent it looked as though the home team would romp to an easy victory.
Home coach Warren Gatland confirmed after the match that the side had worked on the tactic in training and was pleased with the way his players varied their attack.
Despite the mounting handling errors the Springbok forwards decided to grab the match by the scruff and turned the screw in the set piece and loose.
A period of South African possession at the end of the first half saw them score a try to go in at half-time believing that a win was possible.
Jesse Kriel opened Wales with a kick through and winger Warrick Gelant outpaced the Welsh defence to take the try.
Wales’s scrum was being utterly dominated as the visitors managed to turn their forward superiority into further points in the second half, running in a further two tries to take the lead.
When fly-half Handre Pollard hit the post with his attempted conversion from his own try it looked like a costly miss.
With Wales only managing to score three second-half points from a Leigh Halfpenny penalty to retake the lead the missed conversion cost the Springboks a draw.
Coach Allister Coetzee had taken a lot of flak from his rugby-mad country for the Boks’ continued losses but was positive after the match.
Coetzee was sure that Malcolm Marx had touched the ball down for the disallowed try, but referee Jerome Garces asked the wrong question of the television match official: “Try, yes or no?”
South Africa’s vice-captain Siya Kolisi also saw a lot of positives from the Cardiff battle: “It has been a tough season and we really wanted to finish it well. We just make mistakes off first phase and that makes it tough to come back.”
A relieved Gatland welcomed his side’s third straight win over South Africa in Wales.
“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.”
What was clear from this match was that the Welsh back line was far superior to the Springboks’, while the visitors’ forwards were more dominant.
While the match was tense and close it was because of the poorness of both sides and the myriad mistakes on display.
Next up for Wales is their home match against Scotland in the opening game of the Six Nations. It is hard to assess their chances, but they will have their returning experienced core of players.