Damian Willemse slotted a penalty after the hooter to see the Springboks come from a 15-point half-time deficit and beat Wales in the Test series opener in Pretoria on Saturday.
Having trailed 18-3 at the break, the Springboks rallied in the second half to produce a magnificent comeback effort, with Willemse’s penalty clinching a 32-29 victory and extending to 11 wins South Africa’s unbeaten home record against Wales.
It was not an ideal start to the first half for the world champions in front of a packed Loftus Versfeld. Despite showing plenty of intensity, intent and physicality, a lack of accuracy had the home side struggling in the first half.
Plenty of credit for that should also go to the visitors, who were savvy in how they disrupted the Boks’ strengths. They were clinical in the first half, striking through a well-taken double from speedster Louis Rees-Zammit, both tries coming off turnover ball.
From Jasper Wiese’s knock-on off the very first kick receipt, there was a clear and worrying lack of cohesion in the entire Bok team in the first half. Elton Jantjies will get most of the blame, somewhat rightfully so as his years of experience deserted him and the veteran flyhalf made a string of errors and poor decisions.
However, the 31-year-old was not the only player misfiring as players got in each other’s way and the entire attacking structure simply looked rushed and out of kilter. Perhaps it showed how vital veteran fullback Willie le Roux is to the Bok cause, despite the heavy criticism he has received since 2019.
The Springbok coaches rung the changes at the break, hooking Jantjies for Le Roux – who split time with Willemse between flyhalf and fullback – while also bringing on the replacement front row and handing Vodacom Bulls grinder Elrigh Louw his Test debut.
Whatever was said at half time seemed to light a spark in the hosts, as they very quickly started applying pressure through the driving maul and got themselves back into the match through successful lineout drives that led to tries from Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx.
Wales extended their lead to nine points through another two penalties from Biggar, but the Boks made it a two-point game when Cheslin Kolbe latched on to De Allende’s grubber to dot down in the corner, with Willemse holding his nerve to slot the touchline conversion.
The Boks continued to pile on the pressure and, after Alun Wyn Jones and Rees-Zammit were sent to the sin bin, another powerful maul resulted in a penalty try and Wales having to finish the game with 13 men as Rhys Carre became their third player sin-binned as a result.
However, another Bok error gave possession back to Wales and, after the visitors won a penalty, they levelled the scores through a maul try of their own from replacement hooker Dewi Lake.
In the end, a break from Lukhanyo Am put the Boks in Welsh territory and Biggar was penalised for an intentional knock-down. That left it all to Willemse and he confidently stepped up and pointed to the poles. Despite not being his franchise’s regular kicker, the Stormers man held his nerve to slot the penalty and win the game for the Boks.