A SLIGHTLY shambolic game was settled by a farcical moment as Wales beat South Africa for the third time on the spin.

Warren Gatland’s men made hard work of it in Washington but sneaked the spoils 22-20 in a clash between two new-look sides.

It looked as though Wales would ease past the Springboks when they led 14-3 at half-time but in the end they were thankful for a comical try in the closing stages.

South Africa led 20-17 in the 75th minute when their replacement fly-half Robert du Preez was charged down twice within a matter of seconds.

The second by scrum-half Tomos Williams rebounded off Travis Ismaiel and fell kindly for Scarlets hooker Ryan Elias to pounce for a first Test try.

That earned an ugly victory, Wales’ first against the Boks outside of Cardiff, after a frustrating performance.

Gatland challenged his young players to make a statement in the build up to Japan 2019 and they will hope to show more quality in Argentina over the next fortnight.

There were bright performances by captain Ellis Jenkins in the back row and his Cardiff Blues teammate Williams on debut while Dragons lock Cory Hill was his usual industrious self.

His regional teammates Hallam Amos and Elliot Dee showed flashes but will aim for more consistency against the Pumas, while Aaron Wainwright will hope to get on the field in Santa Fe or San Juan.

The 20-year-old from Bassaleg got the call to get onto the field in the 80th minute but the lineout was taken swiftly, leaving the back row forward to wait for his first cap after frantically removing his substitute's bib.

Gatland has left a raft of seasoned campaigners behind but he will no doubt call for a number of Scarlets, who were rested after their PRO14 final exertions, for what promises to be a far, far stiffer test in Argentina.

It was a horrendous start to the game featuring precious little running rugby, errors galore in the Washington rain, plenty of scrappy scrums and a missed penalty effort from fly-half Gareth Anscombe.

The first points came in the 18th minute when full-back Hallam Amos claimed a high ball only for his former Dragons teammate Tom Prydie to be pinged for going off his feet, Elton Jantjies punishing the wings offence from the tee.

That was about it from an atrocious half hour of Test rugby other than a worrying knee injury for Scarlets winger Steff Evans, who was helped from the field to signal the end of the George North midfield experiment.

But Wales, who have won twice against the Boks in the autumn since losing the World Cup quarter-final at Twickenham, were in front when they exploited a Springboks error when captain Jenkins snaffled the ball when it slipped out of the back of a ruck in the 22.

It was worked wide by new boy Hadleigh Parkes then back row forwards Ross Moriarty and Jenkins for Amos to finish powerfully down the right for his fourth Test try that Anscombe excellently converted.

Suddenly Wales were alive and they were over for a second as passes began to stick, hooker Elliot Dee’s carry followed by a snipe by scrum-half Tomos Williams for a try on debut that his Cardiff Blues half-back partner converted for 14-3.

The Boks had a final chance to inch closer before the break but Wales defended strongly with that man Jenkins winning a turnover close to his line to snuff out the danger.

But the South Africans were gifted a way back into it just three minutes after the restart when Amos tried to shift the ball on inside his own 22 only to be intercepted by Ismaiel, who cantered over for a try that Jantjies converted for 14-10.

The southern hemisphere side failed to deal with Anscombe’s restart and then gave away a penalty that allowed the Welsh fly-half to stretch the lead to seven points.

That was agonisingly close to being extended when Anscombe put Moriarty charging through a gaping hole in midfield and into the 22 only for Owen Watkin to knock on as a raft of men in red lurked down the left.

The Welsh kicker was narrowly wide with a long-range effort after yet more good breakdown work by Jenkins but the action swung back the other way for another moment to forget for Watkin.

South Africa hammered at the line from a driving lineout and, playing with penalty advantage, chipped over the top where the centre slapped the ball out deliberately ahead of Jesse Kriel.

The Osprey was shown a yellow card – he was saved from a penalty try by the presence of Amos – but the Springboks soon got the score they wanted.

They opted for a scrum and though Wales held firm at the set piece, the South Africans’ numerical advantage showed out wide for wing Makazole Mapimpi to go over.

The conversion was tricky but Jantjies slotted it to make it level-pegging on the hour.

Suddenly it was the Boks that were on top and in the 68th minute it took a fine covering tackle by lock Cory Hill to drive Ismaiel into touch as he tried to cross down the right.

But South Africa were in front in the 74th minute when they piled the pressure on at a Welsh scrum on their 22 for a penalty that replacement du Preez knocked over.

His joy would turn to despair, much to the relief of Gatland & Co. At least the cobwebs have been blown away ahead of the tricky trip to south America.

Wales: H Amos; T Prydie, G North, O Watkin, S Evans (H Parkes 30); G Anscombe, T Williams (A Davies 78); N Smith (W Jones 49), E Dee (R Elias 70), D Lewis (R Jones 53); C Hill, B Davies; S Davies, E Jenkins (captain), R Moriarty.

Scorers: tries – H Amos, T Williams, R Elias; conversions – G Anscombe (2); penalty – G Anscombe

South Africa: C Bosch (W Gelant 32-40, 50); T Ismaiel, J Kriel, A Esterhuizen, M Mapimpi; E Jantjies (R du Preez 72), I van Zyl; O Nche (S Kitshoff 45), C Ralepelle (A van der Merwe 53), W Louw (T du Toit 46), J Jenkins (M Orie 62), P-Steph du Toit (captain), K Smith (S Notshe 11-20), O Mohoje, D du Preez (S Notshe 54).

Scorers: tries – T Ismaiel, M Mapimpi; conversions – E Jantjies (2); penalties – Elton Jantjies, R du Preez

Referee: Matthew Carley (England)

Argus star man: Ellis Jenkins