South Africa v Wales: Gareth Anscombe kicks himself into Welsh rugby folklore

South Africa v Wales: Gareth Anscombe kicks himself into Welsh rugby folklore

Match-winners Gareth Anscombe and Josh Adams celebrate victory over South Africa
Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town Date: Saturday, 16 July Kick-off: 16:05 BST
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio Wales Extra – available via BBC Sounds, 882 MW and BBC Sport Online, Radio Cymru plus live text and match report on the BBC Sport website

As Welsh match-winning kicks go, Gareth Anscombe’s inspired intervention against South Africa in Bloemfontein is hard to top.

His touchline conversion to ensure Wales defeated the Springboks in South Africa for the first time will be etched in Welsh rugby folklore.

There have been some iconic efforts in the past.

There is John Taylor’s conversion against Scotland in 1971 to clinch victory in front of 100,000 people at Murrayfield, Paul Thorburn’s kick against Australia to seal third place at the 1987 World Cup and Neil Jenkins’ effort against England at Wembley in 1999. They are just a few that resonate.

It was fitting to see Jenkins, now Wales’ kicking coach, celebrating behind Anscombe as the fly-half effortlessly slotted the ball over.

“I was fairly confident in my ability to kick it,” said Anscombe.

“Although, I must admit, the legs were feeling a little bit soft at the time. I just told myself I wasn’t going to watch it go over.

“Thankfully, it went where it was supposed to. Those are the kicks you dream of, when you get them right.

“I was struggling to see it because I lost it in the floodlight but I saw Jenks’ (Neil Jenkins) reaction. He usually tells you before anyone else does.”

Anscombe, a second-half replacement for injured captain Dan Biggar, had helped create Josh Adams’ late try with a wonderful floated pass.

Then came his defining moment. Wales’ fate was on the line. A successful kick meant the three-match series would be levelled at 1-1, while a miss would mean Springbok success.

The Bloemfontein crowd did not make it easy for Anscombe, with a hostile chorus of boos.

It did not faze him as the cacophony of noise made way for stunned silence.

Gareth Anscombe anxiously watches his late conversion
Gareth Anscombe won his 32nd Wales cap as he replaced Dan Biggar in Bloemfontein

Anscombe, 31, has been here before, having kicked a match-winning penalty for Cardiff against Gloucester in Europe’s Challenge Cup final in 2018.

Four years on in the South Africa darkness, the outcome was the same.

“The atmosphere was amazing and crowd was noisy to say the least,” added Anscombe.

“I’m so rapped for the team. It’s a special moment and I’m proud I could step up and do my job.

“It’s one of the biggest kicks of my life and I’m glad this one went where it was supposed to. Maybe the rugby gods jumped on our back on this one.”

The success will be particularly memorable for Anscombe given that he arrived in South Africa later than the rest of the Wales squad as he was waiting for the birth of his second child.

The stars did not align and Anscombe ended up missing the occasion, finding out about the birth of his baby boy when he landed in Johannesburg.

“I have made a lot of sacrifices in my life, been through a lot and missed the birth of my son,” added Anscombe.

“I missed something special. It will be nice to show him this in 10 years’ time and say: ‘This is why dad missed it!’. Hopefully he will understand.

“My family has done a hell of a lot for me and I’m glad we could contribute to this victory.

“For what I’ve been through, it’s something I will look back and remember.”

That Anscombe was able to line up the conversion at all is remarkable after a serious knee injury which sidelined him for two years.

In 2019, he was Warren Gatland’s first-choice fly-half after guiding Wales to a Grand Slam earlier that year.

He suffered the injury in a World Cup warm-up match against England in August 2019 which ruled him out of that tournament.

That was only the start, though. More surgery followed as Anscombe’s rehabilitation became complicated.

Eventually he had to have his tibia broken and leg realigned, with a bone graft from a dead man inserted into his knee.

“It definitely makes it sweeter,” said Anscombe.

“Ironically, last week was two years to the day when I had the surgery, the osteotomy.

“That was when everything got turned upside down and it went from an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) to something a whole lot more.

“That’s been well-documented but it was almost two years to this date. It’s funny how the world works.

“It wasn’t about whether I was going to play international rugby again, it was whether I was going to run.

“I took time last week to reflect on it a little bit. There were so many unknowns and it’s a bit of a pinch-me moment I’m here. I’m glad I could play a part in this group achieving something special.”

His family have proved the driving force in his return to the international stage.

“My wife was the one that pushed me out the door,” added Anscombe.

“There is no way I’d be where I am without her and my family, but particularly my wife. We literally converted half the house to accommodate my recovery.

“I’ve paid my dues, I sacrificed and my family did. I worked hard and I have got a lot of people to thank for putting me in this position. That effort, that kick, is a culmination of so many people’s work.”

Resilience has been a trait of this Wales squad after they finished fifth in the 2022 Six Nations, which ended with a home defeat to Italy.

After overcoming the disappointment of a last-gasp first Test defeat in Pretoria, Wales can contemplate an historic away series win in South Africa ahead of next Saturday’s decider in Cape Town.

“The group has copped a lot of a flak in the last few weeks,” said Anscombe.

“We put a tremendous amount of effort in last week and didn’t get what we deserved. I’m relieved and proud of the group, we deserved this one.

“We’ve created something special, something not many teams do.

“Wales had never won here [in South Africa] and we have the chance to win the series next weekend.”

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