Boks break Wales hearts with 31-30 comeback win
NELSPRUIT, South Africa (AP) — A dramatic penalty try two minutes from time saw South Africa complete an incredible comeback to pip Wales 31-30 in the second test on Saturday.
The decisive moment in an action-packed encounter that included seven tries and three yellow cards came when Wales fullback Liam Williams’ last-gasp tackle in the corner on South Africa wing Cornal Hendricks was deemed to be illegal, leading referee Steve Walsh to award a penalty try.
Flyhalf Morne Steyn duly converted it to put South Africa ahead for the first time in the match, and with his opposite number Dan Biggar failing with two late dropped goal attempts, the Springboks avoided what would have been a first ever home defeat to Wales.
Instead, they recorded their 26th win in 28 tests against the Welsh, although it was almost entirely reliant on a 10-minute burst at the end of each half.
Wales coach Warren Gatland predicted his side would be better prepared after an extra week’s preparation, and he was right as the Welsh screamed into a 17-0 lead and then, after South Africa pulled the game back to 17-14 at halftime, opened up a 13-point gap with 14 minutes to play.
However, on both occasions when the Springboks looked to have been pushed out of the game, they showed that what Wales could do in 30 minutes, they could do in 10 as their two-try blitzes won the day and sealed the two-match series 2-0.
“This was my best win yet with the team as these are the matches you coach for,” coach Heyneke Meyer said. “We were down and almost out, but the team showed massive character and resolve to pull this one through.”
Where South Africa had been almost flawless in the first half of a 38-16 victory in the first test, a litany of errors under heavier Welsh pressure in the second was gratefully seized upon by the visitors.
One such mistake saw fullback Willie le Roux knock on a regulation high ball, and from the scrum, Biggar’s pass inside found wing Alex Cuthbert, who broke through the Bok line before feeding centre Jamie Roberts to score under the crossbar.
Just three minutes later, Wales had a second try, as a stunned Springbok side was driven back onto its own tryline, and this time Cuthbert bulldozed over.
With imposing flank Willem Alberts forced off through injury soon after, it appeared as though everything was going against South Africa, but with 10 minutes of the first half remaining it found a Welsh weakness in the rolling maul and exploited it to the full.
Luke Charteris and Biggar were both sent to the sin-bin as successive Bok mauls battered Wales into submission on the way to a penalty try, and then the hosts utilised their numerical advantage to send Hendricks to his second try in as many tests.
The game swung again six minutes into the second half when hooker Ken Owens was awarded a controversial try - he appeared to have lost the ball forward in the process of reaching for the line, but after numerous replays referee Walsh gave it.
With Biggar adding a couple of penalties and lock Flip van der Merwe sin-binned, South Africa looked bound for an embarrassing defeat.
But Le Roux sparked the comeback when he spotted a gap in the Welsh line to score and set up a thrilling climax, and Hendricks rounded it off when his dive for the line brought a shoulder barge from Williams and the decisive penalty try.
South Africa 31 (2 penalty tries; Cornal Hendricks, Willie le Roux tries; Morne Steyn 4 conversions, penalty), Wales 30 (Jamie Roberts, Alex Cuthbert, Ken Owens tries; Dan Biggar 3 conversions, 3 penalties). HT: 14-17