CARDIFF (Reuters) - Wales completed a first clean sweep of their November test programme as they battled to a 20-11 victory over South Africa at the Principality Stadium on Saturday for an important pre-World Cup triumph.
It was a ninth successive test win for the Welsh — a feat they have not achieved since 1999 — and a fourth win in a row over the Boks but, more importantly a strong message about their potential for next year’s World Cup.
“The character we have shown in a couple of these games is the most pleasing thing,” said veteran Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones afterwards.
The Welsh, ranked third in world rugby, scored two early tries to ensure a 14-3 half-time lead as they displayed not only attacking verve but some stoic defence to hold off a dominant Springbok showing in the second half.
Prop Tomas Francis and fullback Liam Williams both crossed the line in the opening 16 minutes for Wales while Jesse Kriel got South Africa’s only try in the second half.
Two late penalties from substitute Dan Biggar took the game beyond the visitors’ reach after South Africa had come back from 14-3 down at the break to 14-11 just after the hour mark.
Biggar’s inclusion helped Wales break out of their half and force vital penalties to seal victory.
Francis’ first test try came after man-of-the-match Ellis Jenkins made the initial breakthrough, wrong-footing the South Africa defence close to the line before passing inside for Francis.
Williams dotted down a 12th test try after George North had come inside in a deviation and a long pass over the defence made perfect use of the overlap for the fullback to score.
But a Handre Pollard penalty reduced the score and Kriel crossed over the line just before the break but the referee ruled the ball had been held up by some tenacious Welsh defence.
South Africa dominated the second half but could not break through the home defence in a brutal exchange of surges and tackles until Kriel eventually got his try in the 55th minute after a clever flip pass from Willie le Roux.
Elton Jantjies’s penalty seven minutes later made it 14-11 to set up the possibility of a Bok comeback but Biggar’s arrival turned the game as Wales reaped the rewards for an intelligent and a mistake-free performance.
“They were just too smart for us today, we gave away too many penalties. We are not even close to where we can be as a team,” said Springbok skipper Siya Kolisi.
It was also Wales’s fifth win in the last six matches against the Boks. South Africa, however, boast 28 victories in the teams’ 35 meetings overall, with one draw.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Tony Lawrence