Damian’s magic does it for the boks

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 Damian Willemse is challenged by Kieran Hardy (left) and Adam Beard of Wales during their test match at Loftus Stadium in Pretoria yesterday Photo: Muzi Ntombela / BackpagePix
Damian Willemse is challenged by Kieran Hardy (left) and Adam Beard of Wales during their test match at Loftus Stadium in Pretoria yesterday Photo: Muzi Ntombela / BackpagePix

SPORT


South Africa needed an 83rd minute penalty by Damian Willemse to secure a come-from-behind win in the first of their three tests against a plucky but ultimately ill-disciplined Welsh side at Loftus Versfeld yesterday.

Jacques Nienaber’s players put in a lethargic first half performance and had to pull finger in the second half, with Willemse emerging the hero after replacing Elton Jantjies at fly half at half-time with the decisive kick at the death.

The visitors, who have never won in South Africa, have only themselves to blame after they had four players sin-binned during the game, a case of ill-discipline which meant they were left with no shortage of what ifs at the end.

Of the many scenarios the Springboks would have imagined for their half-time chat, discussing a 15-point deficit could not have been one of them.

This was thanks to a lethargic first 10 minutes by the hosts, which rendered the rest of the half an exercise in trying to extricate themselves from quicksand.

READ: Boks not taking chances

In those opening exchanges, the Boks proved shaky under Wales’ high ball and inaccurate with their own kicking game, with a stray line-out – their first of the match – leading to Wales, British & Irish Lions winger Louis Rees-Zammit’s third-minute try.

Other than being caught cold, another massive issue for the home team was a lack of control by halfbacks Faf de Klerk and Jantjies, with the fact that the latter has not played since January – when a shoulder injury ended his season with his Japanese club – showing in an error-strewn display.

As if his attempted up and unders being either too shallow or deep was not a huge problem which relies almost entirely on their kicking game, Jantjies supplemented those errors by missing two of his three penalties at goal. He also kicked a penalty out on the full, with a break which nearly ended up in a try being his only highlight in the first half.

It came as little surprise when at the end of it he was replaced by fullback Willie le Roux, with starting 15 Willemse moving to fly half.

READ: Five players who have earned entry into Bok’s closed shop

For their part Wales, who had never won a test in all 10 of their previous games in South Africa, came out with the right mind-set, defending the Boks’ rolling mauls well and standing their man in open play, too.

The eye-catching aspect of their performance was how they capitalised on every opportunity available to them, except the conversion to Rees-Zammit’s opener, with skipper and fly half Dan Biggar throwing in a 50m drop goal for good measure.

Having been the last recipient of South Africa’s botched line-out, Rees-Zammit never looked like being headed en route to the try line and was first to be alert to a Welsh line-out overthrow gone wrong, poking the ball ahead and naturally being the first to score it for his second in the 32nd minute.

Wales, through the restored Biggar’s boot, kept moving the target with two more penalties, before the Boks finally scored through a coherent back line move which saw winger Cheslin Kolbe score off a grubber by Damian de Allende in the 65th minute.

In a game punctuated by ill-tempered off-the-ball incidents, the Boks’ reprieve came when Biggar cynically didn’t roll away from a tackled Bok player with a try a possibility, getting a yellow for his troubles.

The sin-bin yielded seven points via a Bongi Mbonambi try from a rolling maul, with replacement Malcolm Marx also scoring in a similar manner to the starting hooker, suddenly reducing the arrears to three points.

Wales, through the restored Biggar’s boot, kept moving the target with two more penalties, before the Boks finally scored through a coherent back line move which saw winger Cheslin Kolbe score off a grubber by Damian de Allende in the 65th minute.

The rest of the game saw the hosts apply the kind of pressure which meant the visitors had three more sin-bins in the form of replacement Alun Wyn Jones, Rees-Zammit and Rhys Carré in the half.

With the Boks scoring via a penalty try from a rolling maul with five minutes remaining, most would have thought the hosts had done enough to preserve their record.

READ: Local is lekker for the Boks this year

But another rolling maul try by Wales’ replacement hooker Dewi Lake, from a Welsh pack missing two players, meant the scores were tied, with Biggar uncharacteristically missing the conversion to leave things in a stalemate.

Enter Willemse with the killer blow. 


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