Wales' Nick Tompkins closes in on Handre Pollard
Nick Tompkins (right) took over at centre for Johnny Williams for this game
Wales (12) 18
Pens: Biggar 6
South Africa (9) 23
Try: Marx Pens: Pollard 4, Steyn, Jantjies

World champions South Africa battled back to defeat Wales in a compelling contest at Principality Stadium.

Wales led for 73 minutes thanks to six Dan Biggar penalties setting up an 18-15 advantage.

The defining moment was a crucial try from replacement hooker Malcolm Marx, typifying the impact of the South African forwards from the bench.

Four penalties from Handre Pollard and kicks from Frans Steyn and Elton Jantjies sealed the Springboks’ win.

There was a controversial second-half incident when Wales replacement Liam Williams was denied a try-scoring chance by a pitch invader with the scores at 15-15.

It helped South Africa to a first win in Cardiff in eight years against an impressive Wales side who were missing many top internationals and bounced back from a 54-16 defeat against New Zealand last weekend.

The Springboks’ forward dominance took its toll though on a dogged Wales, who kept out the visitors for so long and were indebted to a brilliant defensive performance from the returning Ellis Jenkins.

Injuries for Alun Wyn Jones and Ross Moriarty against the All Blacks added to Wales’ missing injured British and Irish Lions list of Ken Owens, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate, Taulupe Faletau, George North and Leigh Halfpenny.

South Africa were close to the side that defeated New Zealand last month although scrum-half Faf de Klerk, flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit and wing Cheslin Kolbe were missing through injury.

Sleepless night

The Springboks’ preparations had been disrupted by the fire alarm going off twice at their Cardiff city centre hotel in the early hours of the morning.

It was Wales who started more brightly with a frantic opening which saw plenty of kicking in the wet conditions, with home wing Louis Rees-Zammit denied an early try after good cover defence from Siya Kolisi and Herschel Jantjies.

Rees-Zammit was back in the side alongside fellow English-based backs Biggar and Nick Tompkins after the trio missed the New Zealand defeat because the match fell outside World Rugby’s international window.

Biggar and Pollard slotted over two early penalties each in a fascinating opening quarter as Wales mixed up their attacking game but were punished for sloppy mistakes in receiving kick-offs.

Flanker Jenkins, who was one of three changes in the pack alongside Rhys Carre and Will Rowlands, made his first major contribution with a superb turnover on his international return in the Welsh 22.

It was his first Wales appearance in almost three years against the same opposition he suffered a serious knee injury against in November 2018 and which forced him to miss 26 months of action.

His trademark turnover acted as a catalyst for defence to switch to attack with Biggar restoring the lead with a third penalty.

A lengthy stoppage saw referee Paul Williams in long conversation with television match official Olly Hodges about two incidents involving South African prop Ox Nche and Tompkins.

Williams adjudged the second obstruction incident was worthy of a yellow card because of the amount of offences with Biggar slotting over a fourth penalty.

The New Zealand official evened up the numbers with Carre sent to the sin-bin for the hosts’ persistent offending after the Cardiff prop transgressed in a driving line-out.

Pollard slotted over a third penalty to reduce the deficit to 12-9 at half-time.

Springboks scrum strength

South Africa’s scrum dominance was emphasised early in the second half even before they brought on their formidable front-row replacement trio of Marx, Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch.

A fearsome attacking onslaught from South Africa, inspired by replacement full-back Frans Steyn and wing Makazole Mapimpi, was halted in Wales’ 22 by a brilliant rip from Jenkins.

Johnny McNicholl’s clearance kick was collected by Jesse Kriel with South Africa yielding a penalty. It was a momentum shift with Biggar slotting over his fifth kick instead of the hosts conceding a try.

Steyn successfully kicked a long-range penalty effort from five metres inside South Africa’s half before the Springboks’ set-piece stranglehold continued with further fresh legs, and Pollard levelled the scores.

Wales made their own reshuffle with Liam Williams coming on for his first game of the season on the wing and replacing captain Jonathan Davies with Josh Adams slotting into the centre and Jenkins becoming the new skipper.

Scarlets prop WillGriff John also won his first cap before that bizarre incident occurred with an intruder on the field interrupting a try-scoring chance for Liam Williams.

After it had been investigated, Wales were awarded a penalty and Biggar kicked his sixth penalty.

Mapimpi appeared to have scored the opening try in the 69th minute after collecting a pass from lock Eben Etzebeth.

After reviewing the incident, though, referee Williams adjudged South Africa were offside following the kick from replacement Cobus Reinach because the players had not retreated.

Wales brought on Gareth Anscombe for Biggar for the final 10 minutes but South Africa started to dominate the aerial battle through the majestic Mapimpi.

There was no denying Marx from a driving line-out for an unconverted try as South Africa led for the first time in the 74th minute.

Ulster hooker Bradley Roberts made his Wales debut against the country of his birth but could not stop the South African success as Jantjies sealed the win with the final kick of the game.

Wales: McNicholl; Rees-Zammit, J Davies (capt), Tompkins, Adams; Biggar, T Williams; Carre, Elias, Francis, Rowlands, Beard, Jenkins, Basham, Wainwright.

Replacements: Roberts for Elias (70) W Jones for Jenkins (42-45) for Carre (68), John for Francis (60) Carter for Jenkins 78, S Davies for Wainwright (54), G Davies for T Williams (68), Anscombe for Biggar (68), L Williams for J Davies (60), J Davies for Tompkins (78).

Sin-bin: Carre (35)

South Africa: Willemse; Kriel, Am, de Allende, Mapimpi; Pollard, H Jantjies; Nche, Mbonambi, Nyakane, Etzebeth, De Jager, Kolisi (capt), Smith, Vermeulen.

Replacements: Marx for Mbonambi (45), Kitshoff for Nche (45), Koch for Nyakane (45), Mostert for de Jager (60), Wiese for Kolisi (70), Reinach for H Jantjies (53), E Jantjies for Pollard (65), Steyn for Willemse (13).

Sin-bin: Nche (30)

Match officials

Referee: Paul Williams (NZR)

Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace (IRFU) & James Doleman (NZR)

TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU).

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