By Adam Ellis
Warren Gatland watched his side beat South Africa 22-20 in Washington DC in a match that was far from an American Dream.
Played at a half-empty RFK Stadium, the Test was billed with little fanfare from the capital’s media and faced many critics pre-match for the timing of the fixture and its validity as a true Test.
That won’t matter to Wales head coach Gatland who saw tries from Hallam Amos and debutant scrum-half Tomos Williams give his side a 14-3 lead at half-time.
But if this Test was an exercise to grow the sport of rugby in the US, the first 40 minutes would make the country more likely to turn towards bowls such was the dreariness of the performance levels, as the 21,357 spectators in attendance waited until the 20th minute for Elton Jantjies to put the first points on the scoreboard from the kicking tee. While TV spectators were left with intermittent spells of lost coverage.
For Gatland and especially South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus, however, this was a chance to build experience in some youthful prospects with try-scorer Tomos Williams impressing inside of Gareth Anscombe. While Erasmus took a chance to analyse 13 uncapped talents named in his matchday 23.
And he would have been impressed with the Bok’s second-half fightback, as wing Travis Ismaiel made a flying start after the restart by intercepting a loose pass from full-back Amos to be gifted a simple try on debut.
Anscombe then nudged Wales a little further ahead with a penalty to take the score to 17-10, only his team-mates to then butcher a big overlap opportunity.
With Ross Moriarty sucking in defenders with a big line break before being tackled, Wales had seven on three out wide to be in with a chance of a try but for centre Owen Watkin to knock the ball on in conditions that produced a match fraught with handling errors.
Watkin was then sent to the bin moments later when he deliberately knocked the ball out of bounds defending under pressure from the on-rushing Jesse Kriel, to deny a clear try-scoring opportunity.
South Africa made this hole in the Welsh backline count to their advantage, as the ball was spread wide to the left for see Sharks wing Makazole Mapimpi cross over for his team’s second try, replacement fly-half Rob du Preez followed up with the conversion.
It was at the scrum where South Africa were being allowed to dictate the game, as a penalty allowed Super Rugby’s leading points scorer Du Preez to add three more points to hand the Southern Hemisphere side the lead, 20-17.
With Watkin returning to the field and Wales under the pump, it was in the 77th minute where Wales would earn a resilient win as a Du Preez clearance was charged down and resulted in Scarlets hooker Ryan Elias scoring a late winner for his country’s third-straight win against the Boks.
Wales now move onto the more pressing two-Test series to play against Argentina, while South Africa are likely to make wholesale changes for the first of three Tests against England.
Wales: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 George North, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams; 1 Nicky Smith, 2 Elliot Dee, 3 Dillon Lewis, 4 Cory Hill, 5 Bradley Davies, 6 Seb Davies, 7 Ellis Jenkins (Capt), 8 Ross Moriarty
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Rhys Patchell/Gareth Davies, 23 Hadleigh Parkes
South Africa: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ivan van Zyl; 1 Ox Nche 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 3 Wilco Louw, 4 Jason Jenkins, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit (Capt), 6 Kwagga Smith, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 8 Dan du Preez
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Warrick Gelant
Referee: Matthew Carley (ENG)