Its the silly season of International Rugby with France touring New Zealand, England touring South Africa, Wales to Argentina and Scotland in Canada and USA.
Wales and South Africa opened their June Campaigns in a one off game in the USA.
The build-up to the game had been dominated by questions about the fixture’s validity. Wales were without most of their British and Irish Lions, while South Africa left top players at home as they prepare for the three-Test series against England.
Former Wales captain Gwyn Jones had called the match a “shambles” that “devalued international rugby”, while Premiership Rugby boss Mark McCafferty said the game should not be taking place because it was arranged outside the international window.
Wales head coach Gatland countered by describing those criticising the Test match as “bitter and twisted” and insisted it was vital for his preparations for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
A disappointing crowd of 21,357 turned up to watch the experiment.
It was Ryan Elias’ late try gave Wales a 22-20 victory against a much-changed South Africa in Washington DC.
Warren Gatland’s side took an 11-point lead into half-time but South Africa fought back strongly after the break.
Wales now travel onto Argentina for two Tests against the Pumas.
The game struggled to entertain in the early stages, with most scrums needing to be reset, before South Africa’s Elton Jantjies scored the first points of the game from the boot after 20 minutes when Wales conceded a penalty at the breakdown.
Steff Evans was then forced off after 30 minutes with a knee injury and replaced by Hadleigh Parkes, and the Scarlets centre made an immediate impact.
Ellis Jenkins forced the Springboks into a mistake that set Wales free in South African territory. Jenkins, Parkes and Ross Moriarty showed quick hands before full-back Hallam Amos went over for the opening try.
Minutes later, Wales were over again. Tomos Williams, winning his first Wales cap, broke two tackles five metres from the line to score a debut try.
Gareth Anscombe’s conversion meant Wales took a 14-3 lead into the break.
Travis Ismaiel gave South Africa the perfect start to the second half, intercepting Amos’ loose pass for the simplest of finishes.
Anscombe replied with a well-taken penalty before Wales missed a glorious opportunity to extend their lead once again.
Moriarty powered over the gain line before sidestepping a couple of Springbok defenders. From the breakdown the ball was spread wide where several Welsh players lay in wait against just a couple of Springboks, but centre Owen Watkin knocked the ball on.
Watkin was then shown a yellow card for deliberately playing the ball out of bounds under pressure from Jesse Kriel, denying the Springbok a clear try-scoring opportunity.
With a man advantage, South Africa soon got their try. Dominance at the scrum gave the southern hemisphere side the perfect platform to get the ball wide to wing Makazole Mapimpi, who scored in the corner.
Replacement Du Preez kicked South Africa into a three-point lead with minutes left on the clock but his mistake then gifted Wales the win.
Tomos Williams charged down Du Preez’s late kick and the ball fell kindly to Welsh replacement hooker Elias who sealed Wales’ third consecutive win over the Springboks.
Williams impressed throughout against South Africa, as the Cardiff Blues scrum-half showed why Gatland gave him his first cap.
The debutant started off on the right foot, making a crucial tackle on Travis Ismaiel to stop South Africa going over early on.
As the first half was drawing to a close, Williams scored his first international try after shrugging off the attention of both Jason Jenkins and Ivan van Zyl.
And it was the scrum-half’s determination in closing down South African clearances that led to Wales’ winning try, as his block deflected Elias to score the winning try.
With Rhys Webb now unavailable for Wales selection following his move from Ospreys to Toulon, Williams showed against South Africa why he should be considered as an alternative to Gareth Davies and Aled Davies.
Captain Ellis Jenkins was superb in attack and defence as he demonstrated Wales’ strength in depth at open-side flanker with Sam Warburton and Josh Navidi injured, Justin Tipuric rested and James Davies also in the summer tour squad.
Wales: Hallam Amos; Tom Prydie, George North, Owen Watkin, Steff Evans; Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Nicky Smith, Elliot Dee, Dillon Lewis; Cory Hill, Bradley Davies; Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins (capt), Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Rhodri Jones, Adam Beard, Aaron Wainwright, Aled Davies, Rhys Patchell, Hadleigh Parkes.
South Africa: Curwin Bosch; Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi; Elton Jantjies, Ivan van Zyl; Ox Nche, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Wilco Louw, Jason Jenkins, Pieter-Steph du Toit (capt), Kwagga Smith, Oupa Mohoje, Dan du Preez
Replacements: Akker van der Merwe, Steven Kitshoff, Thomas du Toit, Marvin Orie, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Embrose Papier, Robert du Preez, Warrick Gelant
Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU).
Assistant referees: Alexandre Ruiz (FR) and Frank Murphy (IRE).
TMO: David Grashoff (RFU).