Rassie Erasmus lost his first Test in charge of the Springboks as the South Africans produced a listless, error-ridden display to go down 22-20 to Wales at the RFK Stadium in Washington DC on Saturday night.
The Welsh scored three tries to two as they took advantage of a nervous Bok outfit that battled to adapt to the wet conditions in the US capital.
But they did hit back with a Makazole Mapimpi try late in the second half to level the scores at 17-17, and a Robert du Preez penalty with six minutes to go put them 20-17 up.
Du Preez, though, had a nightmare moment as he had a kick charged-down inside the in-goal area, and the ball ricocheted off Travis Ismaiel to the ground, with replacement hooker Ryan Elias diving on to it to score what turned out to be the winning try.
The Boks awoke from their slumber too late, as they were at their best on the day when they held on to the ball in the last quarter, which saw them stretch the Welsh defence, and the Du Preez blunder was a hammer blow to Erasmus and the Boks.
It was a rather dreary first-half performance from Erasmus’ team, though, as scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl played to instructions by employing the box-kick endlessly, and it backfired as the Welsh dealt well with the aerial bombardment, while the execution and kick-chase wasn’t always the best by the South Africans.
The slippery conditions resulted in handling errors from both teams, and the first points only arrived in the 19th minute via an Elton Jantjies penalty.
Not the start the Boks would have wanted, but this young team can hold their heads high after a good fight back in the second half. A total of 13 players made their Test debuts for SA today, which bodes well for the future.
The Boks played into the Welsh team’s hands by keeping things tight, as the one time the ball went past the South African halfbacks in the opening half, centre André Esterhuizen made a wonderful line-break.
The Sharks No 12 put in a grubber that was caught by franchise teammate Mapimpi, but the ball was turned over at the ruck.
That was almost as good as it got for the Boks in the first half, despite an increasingly solid scrum, efficient lineout – with Chiliboy Ralepelle underlining his credentials once more – and strong maul.
When Van Zyl did clear the breakdowns, he did so smoothly and smartly, and brought a measure of assuredness at halfback that hasn’t been seen for a long time in the Bok set-up.
His box-kicks were a bit hot-and-cold, but that is an aspect that will get better with more game time.
Wales were somewhat fortunate to take the lead in the 31st minute when the Boks failed to secure the ruck following an up-and-under catch, and a few slick passes saw fullback Hallam Amos dart over.
The Bok defence was much improved overall – with the Jacques Nienaber touch evident as they knocked the Welsh back a number of times – but towards the end of the first half, they slipped off a few one-on-one tackles.
Welsh No 9 Tomos Williams took full advantage as he shrugged off a few defenders to force his way over after a number of impressive offloads.
So, the Boks were out of it at 14-3 down at halftime, but they played with a bit more energy after the break.
Esterhuizen shot out of line to place defensive pressure on Amos, and his rushed offload landed in the hands of Ismaiel for a debut try.
Welsh pivot Gareth Anscombe stretched the lead with a penalty to 17-10, but the slow poison of the Bok scrum started bearing fruit as they got dominance.
Jantjies’ dink into the in-goal area led to yellow card for Welsh centre Owen Watkin for deliberately hitting the ball out of play – it could easily have been a penalty try, as Jesse Kriel was competing for the ball – and eventually Mapimpi scored in the corner to make it 17-17.
Even though they were lacklustre for the opening 40 minutes, it looked like the Boks were going to come away with a victory.
Lock Marvin Orie made two crucial lineout steals after coming on to the field for his Test debut, and Ismaiel was tackled out at the corner flag following a promising attack.
But they didn’t land the knockout punch, and it proved costly as the Du Preez debacle saw the Welsh triumph in the end.
The Boks will now travel home, but a new-look team who stayed in South Africa and will be led by Siya Kolisi will take on England at Ellis Park next weekend.
Springboks 20 – Tries: Travis Ismaiel, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalties: Jantjies (1), Robert du Preez (1).
Wales 22 – Tries: Hallam Amos, Tomos Williams, Ryan Elias. Conversions: Gareth Anscombe (2). Penalty: Anscombe (1).