Willemse sparks second-half magic to save Boks from embarrassing first home defeat against Wales

Cheslin Kolbe. (Photo by Anton Geyser/Gallo Images)

Cheslin Kolbe. (Photo by Anton Geyser/Gallo Images)

  • The Springboks came back from a 15-point deficit to beat Wales 32-29 in the first Test at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday evening.
  • The Springboks came back from 18-3 down to lead 29-24, but the Welsh found an extra gear with 13 men on the field to tie up the game.
  • The series now moves to Bloemfontein for the second Test with the series to win for the Springboks.

At Loftus Versfeld

Damian Willemse’s last-minute penalty spared the Springboks the embarrassment of losing a first-ever home Test against Wales when they won 32-29 in Pretoria on Saturday evening.

In front of a heaving 51 762 capacity crowd at the Sunnyside-based ground, Wales had charged into an 18-3 half-time lead and stretched it to 24-15.

The Boks and the packed stadium were shocked into silence when Louis Rees-Zammit dotted down in the corner in the third minute.

The try originated from a botched line-out driving maul that the Welsh disrupted before catching the Boks’ rush defence on the hop by shifting the ball wide and at pace.

Rees-Zammit is one of the fastest players in world rugby and once Bok fullback Damian Willemse was drawn into the line defence, the space was there and Rees-Zammit wasn’t going to be caught.

Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli, who was assisted by Australia’s Angus Gardner from Australia France’s Andrew Piardi, gave the bulk of the 50/50 calls to the visiting team in that opening period.

One of those was a tackle in the air by Dan Biggar on Elton Jantjies that led to Rees-Zammit’s second try in the 31st minute.

While the lineout from Welsh hooker Ryan Elias was a wayward one, Jantjies coughing up possession allowed speedster Rees-Zammit to dash in and complete his brace.

While Amashukeli didn’t have the best of first halves, the Boks were their own worst enemies with their nervous inaccuracy.

This was encapsulated in an unexpectedly highly-strung display from Jantjies. His tactical kicking not only let him down, but so did his goal kicking and general match-management.

Jantjies missed two reasonable easy penalties and overcooked a touch-finder that could have led to a 5m lineout.

He wasn’t well-served by Faf de Klerk, whose delivery, along with his general decision-making, wasn’t sure-footed.

With the forward dominance generated by the Bok pack, De Klerk and Jantjies didn’t translate it into anything tangible for the backs.

It was no surprise when Jantjies didn’t appear for the second half, but the Boks came back a different beast.

With the Welsh down to 14 men after their flyhalf and captain Biggar was sin-binned in the 38th minute for a professional foul, the Boks finally turned up.

Their percentage rugby had far more accuracy and pulled back the deficit to eight points when Bongi Mbonambi powered over from a rolling maul in the 46th minute.

The Boks then employed Willie le Roux and Willemse in a dual playmaker role, but it was the forwards who did the cooking.

They drew to within three points of the visitors when replacement hooker Malcolm Marx peeled off from a rolling maul and crashed over in the 51st minute.

Biggar’s second penalty in the 54th minute gave the Welsh a six-point buffer that forced the Boks into their uncomfortable catch-up box.

De Klerk’s tactical kicking continued to be iffy, costing the Boks precious possession and territory, allowing Wales to play rugby where they wanted.

Their errant rugby allowed Biggar to slot his third penalty in the 63rd minute allowed the visitors to stretch their lead to nine points.

The Boks, with their forward reserves in place, again displayed their power with ball in hand to cut gaps in the Welsh defence.

With one of his rare attacking forays, he latched onto a Damian de Allende grubber to crash over in the corner in the 65th minute.

The Welsh also had former captain Alun-Wyn Jones yellow-carded after a try was scored for a professional foul.

The same was done to Rees-Zammit in the 75th minute as the Welsh simply could not live with the Boks’ increased tempo and physicality.

The Boks got a deserved penalty try when the Welsh infringed when trying to defend a rolling maul, with the Welsh losing replacement prop Rhys Carre.

The Welsh may have been down to 13 men, but found a 77th-minute try through replacement hooker Dewi Lake after Bok number eight spilt the kick-off.

Biggar missed the conversion, but with the game now tied with two minutes left, it was anybody’s game.

The Welsh, through their replacement halfback Tomos Williams and having conceded four yellow cards, inexplicably chose to kick the ball back to the Boks, who recycled possession until they got a penalty.

That was slammed over by Willemse and their record against Wales at home is now 11/0, but only just.

Scorers:

South Africa (3) 32

Tries: Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx, Cheslin Kolbe, Penalty Try

Conversions: Damian Willemse (2

Penalties: Elton Jantjies, Willemse

Wales (18) 29

Tries: Louis Rees-Zammit (2), Dewi Lake

Conversion: Dan Biggar

Penalties: Biggar (3)

Drop goal: Biggar