CARDIFF, November 29- Wales ended a six-year wait for a southern hemisphere scalp when they beat South Africa 12-6 in a war of attrition on Saturday to ease the pressure on under-fire coach Warren Gatland.
Four Leigh Halfpenny penalties were enough to get past Pat Lambie’s brace in a try-less, tense match at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Under Gatland, Wales had previously only ever beaten Australia (21-18, in November 2008) from the SANZAR trio also including the Springboks and All Blacks in 27 matches since he took charge in 2007.
The victory in Cardiff was also only Wales’ second ever over South Africa in 30 matches, the first coming in 1999, with one match drawn in 1970.
It rounded off an autumn series for Wales that featured defeats by Australia (33-28) and New Zealand (34-16) sandwiching a narrow win over Fiji (17-13).
The defeat left the Springboks, the sole team to have inflicted a loss on New Zealand this year, with a November record of two wins (England, 31-28; Italy, 22-6) and two losses, having also gone down 29-15 to Ireland.
Wales, for whom prop Gethin Jenkins was outstanding in defence, were unable to capitalise on early possession and territory and properly utilise the attacking line-out.
That, combined with a lack of creativity out wide, and some hard Springbok running opened up a slugfest as each side struggled to get a foothold in the game where defence was king.
Halfpenny and Lambie traded penalties in a breathless opening 10 minutes with tempers fraying at some overzealous ruck clear-outs.
The back three of each side were peppered as the aerial assaults began, but all proved themselves capable under the high ball.
Halfpenny missed a second penalty, with South African winger Lwazi Mvovo on hand twice to foil grubbers in behind the first line of defence.
Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth was then lucky not to be yellow carded by Irish referee John Lacey for taking out Dan Biggar in the air, the Welsh fly-half proving an outstanding playmaker in the first quarter.
When Lambie squirmed away from four tacklers in his own 22m area, he shot away with Halfpenny corner-flagging, but perhaps kicked ahead too early, allowing the home full-back to clear.
Wales then set the Millennium Stadium crowd alight with not one but two rarely seen 15-man line-outs, only for a knock-on to hand the ‘Boks back advantage despite massive pressure from the home side.
Lambie saw his second penalty also drift wide and Halfpenny was called upon to put in a crunching tackle on Etzebeth after the second-rower broke free on a rampaging run.
But as they were against both Australia and New Zealand, Wales went into half-time level at 3-3, Halfpenny restoring the lead with a long-range 47th minute penalty.
Lambie responded three minutes later with an even longer effort after the Welsh scrum collapsed.
But Halfpenny nailed two more in quick succession as the momentum swung to the home side who began harrying the visitors with their quick line speed in defence.
The Springboks were dealt a further blow when captain Jean de Villiers was stretchered off with what looked like a nasty knee injury.
And winger Cornal Hendricks was then shown a yellow card for taking out Halfpenny in the air, referee Lacey making his decision after seeing footage on the stadium’s giant screens.
Wales continued to press but failed to make the most of an attacking scrum after full-back Willie le Roux fumbled a botched drop-goal attempt by Biggar.
But South Africa ran out of steam, allowing Wales to hold on and Gatland breathe a sigh of relief.