Preview: South Africa v Wales

Fri, 25 Nov 2016 06:31

DANCE OF THE DESPERATES: Paul Dobson gives us his unique view on the year-ending Test between Wales and South Africa.

Since their first meeting in 1906 the Springboks have generally been too strong for ardent Wales.

It was not till 1999 - their 13th meeting - that Wales won for the first time, and in 31 meeting between the two, South Africa have won 28 times, drawn once and lost twice.

But that was over 110 years and may well not apply to this year.

Wales, South Africa, New Zealand and Pacific Islands share a common national passion for rugby.

In those parts rugby matters - winning a festival, losing funereal gloom.

For Wales and South Africa this has been a pretty gloomy year, 2016.

And there was nothing in last week's matches to get them to singing their national anthems with loud, proud confidence, not when you lost to Italy for the first time and not when you needed a late dropped goal to beat the enthusiastic Japanese.

The one lost and the other had a victory, which was tantamount to a defeat.

This year Wales have played 12, winning five times and losing seven Tests.

South Africa have played 11, winning four times and losing seven Tests.

Results against common opponents:
Argentina: Wales beat Argentina 24-20; South Africa won 30-23 and lost 24-26
Australia: Wales lost 8-32; South Africa lost 17-23 and won 18-10
England: Wales lost 13-27 and 21-25; South Africa lost 21-37
Ireland: Wales drew 16-all; South Africa lost 20-26, while they won 32-26 and 19-13
Italy: Wales won 67-14; South Africa lost 18-20
New Zealand: Wales lost 21-39, 27-36 & 6-46; South Africa lost 15-57 and 14-41

Wales won twice, drew once and lost six times
South Africa won four times and lost seven times

That suggests that there is not a great deal of difference between the two teams.

History is certainly on the side of the Springboks but the one thing their supporters have learnt in recent times is that history is there to be made - and broken.

You can play with history and statistics over and over but they will not determine the outcome of the match.

Home is a factor. The Welsh are at home, the Springboks wanting to get back home. Preparing for Christmas is far better than the humiliations they have suffered.

In some ways, this is a contest between Experience and Youth, between calm and stage fright, between déjà vu and fresh enthusiasm.

South Africa's starting backs have 40 caps, Wales's 335. The most capped Springbok back, Johan Goosen, has 12 caps; the least experienced Welshman, Gareth Davies, has 21 caps. Two South Africa backs, Jamba Ulengo and Rohan Janse van Rensburg, have no caps at all.

The difference between the two sets of starting forwards is less dramatic - 477 caps to 220. In total that means 812 Welsh caps to South African 260.

This influx of four uncapped players into the 23-man Springbok squad is sudden. One hopes that it has been done out of the coach's conviction, possibly in some master plan for the rehabilitation of South African rugby. But one hopes fervently that the thought that this match is being turned into a testing ground is far from South African minds, for it would be a gross insult to the greatness of Wales.

With good preparation and leadership, these young players could work wonders with their freshness and enthusiasm. But if they get stage fright, they are likely to get shredded by the hardened dragons of Wales.

Players to Watch

For Wales: The Welsh side certainly has a settled look. They also have the skill, speed and vision to make the best of small chances. Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams and Dan Biggar are all men of good vision and instincts. One of the impressive players in the Welsh side is their least capped player - rugged Ross Moriarty, son of Paul Moriarty and nephew of Richard Moriarty. Good Welsh stock there.

For South Africa: The interesting part of the Springboks is the eight to 12 alignment of Lions players - Warren Whitely, Francois de Klerk, Elton Jantjies and young, hard-to-stop Rohan Janse van Rensburg. It would be folly not to let them play as their instincts tell them. Perhaps they will be able to give the back three a chance to run free. In the Springbok pack Pieter-Steph du Toit will catch the eye and there will be interest in the tall new cap Uzair Cassiem.

Head to Head: What happens at the tackle is most crucial. The Italians took nine tackle turnovers off the Springboks who won only one! And this even though the Springboks put more players into the tackle than the Italians did. This time they are going to have to cope with the energetic Welsh flanks Dan Lydiate and Justin Tipuric with a later arrival of Taulupe Faletau. And what will happen in the line-outs? Will the Springboks continue their policy of not troubling Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris on their ball? The Springboks have four excellent line-out jumpers who would probably prefer to not be just spectators. One hopes that the scrums will be fairer contests than they could be on Florence's wet soccer field which was ploughed up at every falling scrum. There are also individual battles - Francois de Klerk versus Gareth Davies, two lively scrumhalves, Whiteley versus Moriarty, Scott Williams versus sturdy Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Liam Williams versus Ruan Combrinck, two wings of great all-round ability. And which of the generals will win - Dan Biggar or Elton Jantjies? Goal-kicking can win matches all right, and in Leigh Halfpenny Wales have one of the best in the world - for length, accuracy and consistency. Kicking out of hand is crucially important and not something the Springboks do well - having a purpose versus kicking for its own sake. The Welsh have excellent catchers of the lobbed kick in Dan Biggar and Liam Williams whereas the South Africans have had problems in dealing with the high ball and have paid the price for it. Halfpenny clears well and Biggar finds the clever places to land the ball.

Recent results:
2015: South Africa won 23-19, London (World Cup quarterfinal)
2014: Wales won 12-6, Cardiff
2014: South Africa won 31-30, Nelspruit
2014: South Africa won 38-16, Durban
2013: South Africa 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

Prediction: It would normally be easy to make a reasoned prediction - but in these uncertain times for Springbok rugby but let's say it is a high-scoring, free-flowing encounter with Wales to win by about three points.

For Springbok supporters the prospect of an approaching rugby Test has changed from growing excitement to dread. But then in a short time they have travelled from shock via bewilderment and anger to bitter resignation.


Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins (captain).
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts.

South Africa: 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lionel Mapoe.

Date: Saturday, November 26
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 17.30 (17.30 GMT; 19.30 SA time)
Expected weather: It will be a surprise if Wales opt to leave the roof open, but just in case they do - it will start off grey and cloudy, the cloud will linger through the day, but it will stay largely dry. High of 7°C and a low of 5°C
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Greg Garner (England), Tom Foley (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com