CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Wales scored two early tries and managed the game effectively from then on to beat South Africa 20-11 and secure its first clean sweep in a November rugby series on Saturday.
Prop Tomas Francis and fullback Liam Williams went over for the Welsh tries inside the first 20 minutes in Cardiff, setting up a fourth straight win over the Springboks and a ninth straight against all opposition.
That run is Wales’ best in 19 years.
The victory continued Wales’ recent dominance over its one-time nemesis, and marked the Welsh out as a team to take note of at next year’s Rugby World Cup, even if New Zealand and Ireland are the two ahead of them right now on ranking and performance.
Wales’ win over South Africa, its third straight over the Boks in Cardiff, wasn’t scintillating but it was a performance of maturity. It also clearly illustrated the squad depth coach Warren Gatland has built during a period which might arguably be Wales’ best since the glory days of the 1970s.
Flanker Ellis Jenkins was man of the match after being a late call-up to the starting team to replace the injured Dan Lydiate. And fullback Williams scored one of the tries after being brought in for first-choice Leigh Halfpenny, who was out with concussion.
“We’re very pleased obviously with all the Ws (wins),” Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said. “There’s still patches we’ve got to work on but I think the character we’ve shown in a couple of these games … I think is the most pleasing thing.
“And if we’re honest, we can’t deny the fact that there’s a bit of (squad) depth developing.”
Second-rower Jones was playing his 120th test. He called it “just another game.”
South Africa came back briefly to close it to 14-11 with 19 minutes to go with a try in the left corner by center Jesse Kriel and a penalty by replacement flyhalf Elton Jantjies.
But Dan Biggar came off the bench for Wales to replace Gareth Anscombe at No. 10 — more depth for Gatland’s team — and kicked two late penalties to snuff out South Africa’s comeback.
The gap might have closed from 14-0 early on to 14-11 but Wales never lost composure and finished strongest.
Jenkins was outstanding at No. 6, setting up the first try for Francis when he dummied and sliced through South Africa’s first line of defense to send the front-rower in between the posts in the 10th minute for his first test try.
Williams scored in the 16th as Wales breached South Africa again, this time from first phase with an over-the-top pass by Anscombe.
Jenkins was immense in defense, too, saving a sure try at the end of the first half when he got his arm under the ball as Kriel crashed over. After South Africa re-set from the five-meter scrum, Jenkins won a crucial turnover that kept the Springboks out, ended the half and sent Wales to the break 14-3 up, enough of a gap to see it home.
Exhausted at the end, Jenkins left the field after full-time on a stretcher breathing oxygen but still mustering enough energy to high-five teammates who came over to congratulate him.
The victory gave Wales four wins out of four in the end-of-year internationals in Europe for the first time, and it included another big southern hemisphere scalp in Australia.
Wales had to wait 93 years to beat South Africa for the first time but has now won four of the last five meetings, including two this year. Saturday capped a season when Wales won 10 of 12 tests in 2018 and only dropped games in England and Ireland.
“They really were smart today,” Springboks captain Siya Kolisi said. “We were playing a lot of rugby in our half, which is exactly what they wanted.”
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