Preview: South Africa v Wales
Fri, 13 Jun 2014 06:57
There is something in the air that has changed
Wales have always found South Africa a tough nut to crack. In fact they have cracked it only once, in 1999.
They have a better record against the All Blacks, winning three times.
Only Ireland have a worse statistic against top teams than Wales - winning none out of 28 against the All Blacks.
Saturday's match in Durban will be Wales' ninth against the Springboks in South Africa, and the Springboks have won all eight so far.
In fact on the only other occasion they played in Durban, the manner of their defeat changed Welsh rugby.
It was not a good time for Springbok rugby, but they beat Wales 24-3 at King's Park and such was the victory that Wales went home and changed their structures, making coaching an important component of their rugby - with Ray Williams having lead it.
This would usher in a great era for Welsh and indeed Home Unions rugby.
This is now, and there is something about this now that suggests that history could just be made.
Unusually for a visit from North to South, Wales have brought along a team that looks full strength.
There are some big names missing. Kicking ace Leigh Halfpenny is missing. Others having been forced to stay at home include Captain Sam Warburton, fellow flank Justin Tipuric, centre Scott Williams and lock Bradley Davies.
Their last Test was against Scotland in the Six Nations, which they won 51-3 after Stuart Hogg of Scotland was sent off in the first quarter of the match.
The whole of the backline that day will start against South Africa on Saturday.
There will also be the same front row and the same locks with only one change - flank Aaron Shingler for Sam Warburton. One change since their last Test.
South Africa's last Test - if we are to disregard last Saturday's bazaar - was against France in Stade de France.
Both centres, Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie are out, JP Pietersen moves to centre and Cornal Hendricks comes onto the wing. There is a change at scrumhalf where Fourie du Preez comes in for Ruan Pienaar. The loose forwards are the same, but both locks are changed and so are both props - with Jannie du Plessis at tighthead and Gurthrö Steenkamp at loosehead for his 50th Test.
Seven changes since their last Test.
But it's not just about that. There is something in the air that has changed. Seven of the Springbok starters play overseas. There is the sudden and unprovided for withdrawal of Francois Steyn, who is looking to Japan.
There are injuries and players coming back from injury. And there is the fatigue element.
The Springboks have been battering about in Super Rugby where players like the Sharks front row and Willem Alberts have been played into the ground, perhaps explaining the abysmal scrumming against the World XV.
The Welsh on the other had must be fresh, their front row licking its lips at the prospect of taking on the Springboks. Oh, how history has changed! For decades Springbok scrummaging was the most feared in the world. Not now.
It just may be that this is the Day of the Dragon.
Everywhere you look at Wales there is the promise of success - scrums, line-outs, tackles, try-scoring backs. They are a team deserving respect.
Players to Watch:
For South Africa: Willie le Roux. You should always watch skilled, unpredictable, exciting Willie le Roux. Whenever the ball is on the way to him there is a frisson of excitement. Harmless as he seems to be he can make the lethal strike, he can make an ordinary team do extraordinary thing. You will want to watch young Jan Serfontein and hope and pray that he gets a chance to make play and not just tuck the ball under his arm and bash ahead. It is frightening when the best players in the Springbok pack last week were the Old Age Persons, the locks, but they will catch the eye and so will strong men like Bismarck du Plessis, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen.
For Wales: The Welsh wings, powerful George North and powerful Alex Cuthbert who are not just speed and power, and in the centre powerful Jamie Roberts who can break straighter than anybody else, and speedy Jonathan Davies with his eye to a half chance. Wales have hirsute Adam Jones, played not just for his hairiness but for his square-bodied strength and his usefulness about the field.
Head to Head: Novice Cornal Hendricks against experienced George North. Don't write off the novice. The skill, strength and experience of calm Fourie du Preez against the ill-mannered aggression of Mike Phillips. At the tackles Francois Louw against Dan Lydiate - a vital battle. In line-outs tall Luke Charteris against abrasive Bakkies Botha and Alun Wyn Jones against the clever athleticism on Victor Matfield, the man who reinvented the line-out. Kicking: One would expect the Springbok halfbacks to control the kicking game better than the Welsh halfbacks will and this could mean victory. At goal Morné Steyn may well be better than Dan Biggar, especially now that he has had a proper game of rugby this year. And front row vs front row in the scrums.
2013: South Africa won 24-15, Cardiff
2011: South Africa won 17-16, Wellington (World Cup pool match)
2010: South Africa won 29-25, Cardiff
2010: South Africa won 34-31, Cardiff
2008: South Africa won 20-15, Cardiff
2008: South Africa won 37-21, Pretoria
2008: South Africa won 43-17, Bloemfontein
2007: South Africa won 34-12, Cardiff
2005: South Africa won 33-16, Cardiff
2004: South Africa won 38-36, Cardiff
Prediction: Not a comfortable one, which is a good thing for it means a testing contest, but the advantage of home to give it to the Springboks by five points or fewer.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha ,3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Lodewyk de Jager, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Aaron Shingler, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Paul James, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Ian Evans, 20 Josh Turnbull, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 James Hook, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Date: Saturday, June 14
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 17.05 (15.05 GMT; 16.05 BST)
Expected weather: Clear, starting cool at 12°C, warming up to 24°C and then cooling off to 15°C
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Australia), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
By Paul Dobson
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