Wales kick-started their summer with the perfect result as they recorded a dramatic, late 22-20 win over South Africa in Washington D.C, USA – their first victory over the Springboks outside of home soil.
The resting of Wales’ British & Irish Lions contingent from last summer meant some new faces were handed a chance to shine in the USA and a number of individual performances will have given coach Warren Gatland plenty of food for thought.
Tries from Hallam Amos and Tomos Williams helped Gatland’s men – who finished second behind Ireland in the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations – to a 14-3 half-time advantage but the Springboks roared back to lead 20-17 with minutes remaining before Ryan Elias’ late score sealed victory.
And if you missed any of the action, here are five things we learned from the summer-opening Test. THREE IN A ROW
Only Grand Slam winners Ireland finished above Wales in the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations table and they continued that positive momentum from the spring with a third victory in a row over South Africa.
It was former Munster coach Rassie Erasmus’ first game in charge of the Springboks and he named seven Test debutants in his starting XV – something a youthful Wales side were eventually able to take advantage of.
A rain-soaked RFK Stadium ensured that handling wasn’t always easy and flanker Seb Davies admitted after the match that the weather conditions – which included an oppressive heat in addition to the rain – had been tough to play in.
But Gatland’s troops were ultimately savvy enough to add to their 24-22 victory over the same opposition at Principality Stadium last December and the 27-13 triumph 12 months prior. CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
Captaining his country for the first time, in only his seventh international appearance, was 25-year-old Ellis Jenkins and the flanker was absolutely exceptional in Washington.
With half an hour played, he won a turnover at the tackle, produced some neat interplay with Hadleigh Parkes and Ross Moriarty to set up winger Amos for the opening score.
The tenacious openside also sealed the victory when, with less than two minutes remaining and the Springboks deep in Welsh territory, he secured another crucial turnover.
Jenkins not only looked unburdened by the captaincy but he positively thrived in the leadership role, marshalling his troops for 80 minutes and producing 17 tackles on the day for good measure. TOMOS MAKES A STATEMENT
If Jenkins gave Gatland food for thought in the No.7 jersey, then debutant scrum-half Williams’ performance was also the equivalent of banging on the coach’s door and demanding more game-time.
Pulling the strings from No.9, the 23-year-old’s distribution and decision-making from the base of the ruck was on point all game and after making an early try-saving tackle on Travis Ismaiel, he grabbed a debut try just before the break.
Williams’ quick-thinking and even quicker feet saw him wriggle through three South African forwards for the score – putting Wales in control at 14-3 ahead.
He showed no signs of tiring as the game entered the final stages, applying the pressure with two charge downs deep in Springbok territory, the second of which enabled replacement hooker Elias to dive on the ball for the all-important winning try. EVANS CONCERN
The main concern coming out of the match in Washington was the fitness of winger Steff Evans, who was replaced after just 30 minutes by Hadleigh Parkes.
That was because the 23-year-old fell awkwardly in a tackle by Ismaiel, suffering a nasty-looking knee injury that makes him a severe doubt for the upcoming two Tests against Argentina and potentially beyond.
“It was a hyperextension of the knee,” confirmed Gatland. “He is on crutches at the moment hobbling around, so we will need to get him scanned because it doesn’t look brilliant.”
Since making his international debut against Tonga last summer, Evans has scored five tries in ten Wales appearances – including two in the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations – so any extended absence would be keenly felt. PUMAS AWAIT
It’s now on to San Juan in Argentina for Wales and two Tests against a Pumas outfit who they have beaten in five of the last six encounters between the sides – although all those victories were at Principality Stadium.
Argentina are expected to field a full-strength team and Gatland described the upcoming fixtures as a step up from Saturday’s game against the inexperienced Springboks.
The Wales coach could opt to make changes and bring some of the experienced heads on tour into the starting XV but the victory in Washington at least demonstrated the depth of options he has at his disposal.