Summer Tests Report – Wales

Header image
It was a valiant effort but Wales could not quite secure a first series win against South Africa.

It was a valiant effort but Wales could not quite secure a first series win against South Africa.

Level after two Tests, Handre Pollard proved the difference in the series decider in Cape Town, weighing in with 20 points in the Springboks’ 30-14 win.

But that defeat should not detract from what was a promising showing from Wayne Pivac’s side, who ought to be full of confidence ahead of ties against Australia and New Zealand in the Autumn Nations Series.

Here we take a look at the series and assess the extent of Wales’ summer of progress.

How did they come in?

It’s easy to forget that Wales’ last encounter prior to the opener in Pretoria was an agonising late defeat to Italy in Round 5 of the Guinness Six Nations.

That rounded off a challenging Championship for Pivac, both on and off the field. Dogged by injuries, Wales managed just a solitary win courtesy of a Dan Biggar drop-goal against Scotland.

Their showing across the winter did not augur well for a tour to the home of the world champions who had cast many of this squad aside as members of the losing British & Irish Lions touring party.

So the way they started the first Test came as something of a surprise.

First Test

Louis Rees-Zammit has endured an indifferent year since bursting onto the world stage in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, but he was back to his best here.

Two scores in the first half gave Wales an 18-3 half-time lead before a frenetic second period set in and saw the tourists reduced to 12 men at one stage.

Wales were spurred on by the memory of the late Phil Bennett, the former Wales and British & Irish Lions captain, but could not win at Loftus Versfeld as Damian Willemse kicked a late match-winning penalty.

Second Test

Wales could not quite rewrite history at the first time of asking but they soon did a week later, with a first ever win for their men’s side against the Springboks in South Africa.

As was the case with the first test, the game was again settled in the dying moments by an unlikely hero, as Gareth Anscombe kicked a superb touchline conversion after Josh Adams’ score.

Flankers old and new, Dan Lydiate and Tommy Reffell led the way in defence and spectacularly denied the Boks a try at a venue that had been described as a graveyard.

It capped a memorable day for the northern hemisphere, as South Africa, along with Australia and New Zealand, all lost at home on the same day for the first time in history.

Third Test

The fortunes of Wales’ two fly-halves had swayed the outcome of the first two Tests but this time it was Pollard who had the decisive say.

Reffell scored his first try in a Wales shirt, capping a memorable debut series for his country.

Injuries again played their part in Wales’ undoing as Anscombe and Taulupe Faletau were late withdrawals.

But they were ultimately no match for the clinical Boks and it was perhaps fitting that South Africa’s talisman and captain Siya Kolisi scored the last try of the series before Pollard kicked his side home.

Best moment: Rees lightning returns

Wales sure announced their arrival in South Africa in style. Just two minutes into the opening test, Gloucester flyer Rees-Zammit darted home to score in the corner and silence an expectant home crowd.

The 21-year-old only started one of Wales’ last three Six Nations fixtures but was trusted from the start here and repaid Pivac’s show of faith.


A brutal clearout from Gareth Thomas presented scrum-half Kieran Hardy with quick ball and he quickly spread the play to out-half Biggar.

Full-back Liam Williams stepped in as the extra man and just managed to free Rees-Zammit before being clobbered by Willemse.

Rees-Zammit pinned his ears back and scampered home to score, giving Wales an unexpected yet richly deserved lead at the start of the series.

Who put their hand up: Tommy Reffell

One of Wales’ most consistent performers, it felt as though newcomer Reffell had been a mainstay of the Wales back row for years.

That is particularly high praise considering the back row has been a particular area of strength for Wales, with Taine Basham, recently a guaranteed starter, omitted from the matchday squad for all three Tests until Faletau’s injury ahead of the third test.

Reffell was a constant menace at the breakdown, registering two turnovers on debut and notching his first score on his third cap.

What a few months it’s been for “Tommy Turnover” after his Premiership win with Leicester Tigers.


Despite a losing series it was a positive summer for Pivac and his side.

A new hero in Reffell and a return to form for Rees-Zammit bodes well for a huge year of rugby starting from the autumn.

They have banished memories of that defeat to Italy with a string of eye-catching, if not always error-free displays.

Wales fans should be feeling a lot better about their prospects of glory in 2023.