WALES salvaged their autumn campaign by beating South Africa thanks to a rapid start and a late Leigh Halfpenny penalty at Principality Stadium.

Warren Gatland’s men were desperate for a third successive Cardiff success against the Sprinboks after November losses to Australia and New Zealand either side of their scrappy win against Georgia.

They looked to have the victory in the bag at 21-3 approaching half-time thanks to a brace by debutant Hadleigh Parkes after his midfield partner Scott Williams’ opener.

But with legs getting weary they creaked and it took a late penalty by full-back Halfpenny to inch back in front after the Springboks, who were hopeless early on, took the lead thanks to scores by wing Warrick Gelant, fly-half Handre Pollard and centre Jesse Kriel.

At that stage it looked like a Wales side with just five first choice players in the XV – loosehead Rob Evans, lock Alun Wyn Jones, number eight Taulupe Faletau, fly-half Dan Biggar and full-back Leigh Halfpenny – were to endure a southern hemisphere whitewash.

But the hosts rallied to get back in front and then defended with tenacity to edge a fierce, if slightly error-strewn, contest.

Campaign Series:

Wales made a perfect start with centre Williams going over for a fifth-minute try after a pinpoint crosskick by Biggar and lovely take, step and offload by in-form Dragons wing Hallam Amos.

Halfpenny added the simple extras for a delightful seven-pointer to settle the nerves.

The Boks were a defensive rabble and Biggar’s right boot stretched it to a 14-0 lead with eight minutes on the clock, the fly-half delicately dinking through for the other centre, Parkes, to score a try on debut on the day that he qualified for Wales on residency.

It was almost three with less than 10 minutes on the clock after the visitors failed to deal with another kick only for number eight Taulupe Faletau to be dragged down just short after Amos pounced on a loose ball.

The Boks were praying for the comfort blanket of their set piece and chasing the game certainly wasn’t in their pre-match planning meeting.

However, the tight stuff provided them with a way back in from a scrum penalty, another from a driving lineout and then a chance five metres out that ended with hooker Malcolm Marx showing a powerful leg drive to cross in the left corner.

The Boks retreated back to their half but after a number of TMO viewings he was was deemed to have been held up.

It got worse for the visitors – the resulting scrum was solid and then after some charges at the line Williams intercepted for Wales to escape with their 14-point lead intact going into the second quarter.

The sluggish Springboks finally got on the scoreboard in the 31st minute through the right boot of fly-half Pollard but they promptly shot themselves in the foot.

A clearance by full-back Andries Coetzee, who was having a shocker, was charged down by Biggar and snaffled by Faletau, whose wonderful offload gave Parkes a simple second that Halfpenny converted for 21-3.

Yet the appalling tourists had a lifeline just before the break when a superb break by Dillyn Leyds from a Biggar clearance led to centre Jesse Kriel kicking ahead for wing Warrick Gelant to bag a first international try.

Pollard’s conversion made it 21-10 and the Springboks were pretty content to still be in the mix after being dominated in the first 40 minutes.

The Boks had lost skipper Eben Etzebeth at the end of the half but brushed off that blow to start the second half on top with some typically forthright rugby.

It paid off when hammering away at the line weakened Wales up for Pollard to expose scrum-half Aled Davies’ rashness in the defensive line.

The fly-half stuck the right post but the Boks were back in it at 21-15 with Wales hit by the loss of two of their few first-choice players, loosehead Evans and fly-half Biggar.

Gatland’s side had lost their shape while the South Africans were growing in confidence thanls to their dominance in the tight.

And they were over for try number three with 55 minutes on the clock when a scrum penalty then a big driving lineout was followed by Kriel finishing powerfully down the left. Pollard converted and suddenly it was Wales chasing the game at 22-21 down.

That’s how it stayed entering the final quarter with Wales attempting to take on the Boks at their own game with a driving lineout only to be held up and turned over a couple of yards short.

Instead it was the right boot of Halfpenny that regained the lead after 68 minutes when the Boks failed to roll away inside their 22.

The South Africans laid siege to the Welsh line but lacked the accuracy to get their noses back in front as the clock ticked down.

Weary Wales were clinging on and a clearance by replacement scrum-half Rhys Webb was just the ticket, pinning Boks into their own 22 in the 77th minute.

A penalty gave the visitors one last crack inside enemy territory but they blew it and Wales ensured it was a 50 per cent autumn rather than a 25 per cent campaign.

Wales: L Halfpenny; H Amos, S Williams, H Parkes, S Evans; D Biggar (R Patchell 47), A Davies (R Webb 56); R Evans (W Jones 47), K Dacey (E Dee 53), S Andrews (R Jones ), C Hill, A W Jones (captain), A Shingler, J Navidi (D Lydiate 74), T Faletau.

Scorers: tries – S Williams, H Parkes (2); conversions – L Halfpenny (3); penalty – L Halfpenny

South Africa: A Coetzee (L Am 76); A Leyds, J Kriel, F Venter, W Gelant; H Pollard (E Jantjies 70), R Cronje (L Schreuder 70); S Kitshoff, M Marx (B Mbonambi 70), W Louw (T Nyakane 68), E Etzebeth (captain, O Mohoje 40), L de Jager, S Kolisi, P-S du Toit, D du Preez (U Cassiem 76).

Scorers: tries – W Gelant, H Pollard, J Kriel; conversions – H Pollard (2); penalty – H Pollard

Referee: Jerome Garces (France)

Attendance: 65,317

Argus star man: Hadleigh Parkes