South Africa pull clear in second half to overcome resilient Wales

Weakened Wales produced a battling performance before world champions South Africa turned on the power to triumph 41-13 at Twickenham.

Despite conceding two tries and collecting two yellow cards during the opening 15 minutes, Warren Gatland’s team defied most pre-match odds by making it a contest until two late South African scores.

Wales’ list of absentees – players either injured, unavailable or rested – ran comfortably into double figures and they were widely expected to suffer a crushing defeat.

But they trailed only 14-13 at half-time following a try for captain Dewi Lake, with fly-half Sam Costelow adding two penalties and a conversion.

The Springboks, who are building for a two-Test series against fellow heavyweights Ireland in July, often struggled to impose themselves on a first outing since retaining the World Cup eight months ago.

There were touchdowns for centre Jesse Kriel, wings Makazole Mapimpi and Edwill van der Merwe and hooker Bongi Mbonambi, plus a penalty try, while debutant number 10 Jordan Hendrikse kicked a penalty and two conversions, before Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu added a penalty and two conversions.

South Africa ultimately scored 27 second-half points without reply, yet Wales will take a considerable amount of confidence with them on tour to Australia despite suffering a seventh successive defeat since beating World Cup pool opponents Georgia.

Hendrikse missed an early penalty chance for South Africa but the Springboks went ahead after just four minutes when they shredded Wales’ defence through a sweeping attack.

Warren Gatland's side can take confidence into their matches against Australia
Warren Gatland’s side can take confidence into their matches against Australia (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Mapimpi broke clear after collecting full-back Aphelele Fassi’s pass, and supporting centre Kriel was afforded a simple finish, before Hendrikse converted for a 7-0 lead.

Costelow opened Wales’ account through a seventh-minute penalty but they were soon on the back-foot again following Springboks number eight Evan Roos’ midfield surge, with wing Rio Dyer being yellow-carded for a technical infringement.

South Africa then attacked from a close-range lineout and referee Chris Busby awarded them a penalty try after Wales forward Aaron Wainwright illegally pulled down a maul. Wainwright was sin-binned and South Africa had an 11-point advantage.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, Wales should have scored early in the second quarter after Liam Williams intercepted Hendrikse’s pass, but scrum-half Ellis Bevan couldn’t gather the ball from centre Mason Grady and a glorious chance went astray.

Wales did not have to wait much longer, though, to cut the deficit after Fassi was yellow-carded when his boot caught flanker Taine Plumtree in the face.

South Africa could not clear danger from a lineout inside their own 22 and Lake pounced for a score that Costelow converted, making it 14-10.

It was an impressive recovery by Wales and their fightback continued six minutes before half-time when another Costelow penalty meant that South Africa led by just a point.

Wales lost prop Keiron Assiratti with an injury on the stroke of half-time – he was replaced by Harri O’Connor – yet his team had defied pre-match odds at the halfway point.

Wales’ players during the national anthem
Wales’ players during the national anthem (Andrew Matthews/PA)

South Africa struck within two minutes of the second-half starting and it was a simple try as they simply out-flanked Wales’ defence and Mapimpi had a straightforward run-in, with Hendrikse converting from the touchline.

Hendrikse kicked a long-range penalty to extend South Africa’s advantage, then his replacement Feinberg-Mngomezulu bisected Wales’ posts from inside his own half, and Wales trailed by 14 points.

The quality of South Africa’s replacements’ bench began to take its toll, and Wales were powerless to prevent Mbonambi crashing over from close range as the Springboks moved past 30 points, then Van der Merwe broke clear five minutes from time.