Wales are Six Nations champions and do deserve respect, and there is the not insignificant matter of South Africa’s poor recent record in Cardiff to think about, but the Springbok forwards should be expected to lay the foundation for a solid start to their team’s Castle Lager Outgoing tour at the Principality Stadium.
Even at full strength, meaning with the likes of Alun Wynn Jones, Ken Owens and Taulupe Fauletau in tow, the Welsh would have been hard-pressed to live with a Bok pack that has generally been a dominant force in the games they’ve played since the start of 2019.
But the Welsh pack that creaked against the All Blacks last week and which has lost further firepower because of injuries should not live with a Bok pack firing on all cylinders. Of course, that is the constant caveat, the Boks do need to be functioning, which they weren’t when they were unexpectedly outplayed by Australia in Brisbane during the Castle Lager Rugby Championship.
And in that regard, there is the small matter, or maybe not so small, of rust to be taken into account. While the Welsh did get a chance to play together last week and should be better for it, it is now five weeks since the Bok scrum set itself to scrum in a proper match. Rust could indeed be an enemy of the Boks in the early stages of the game.
Yet it would be surprising if they didn’t get the physical ascendancy they will be seeking as Saturday’s game wears on, and the Welsh lineout was all over the place last week against an All Black formation that isn’t as good as the one they will face on Saturday. The Welsh hookers struggled to find their jumpers under pressure in that game and they will come up against an even stiffer challenge in the form of the contesting ability of Lood de Jager.
WALES BENCH STRONGER THAN AGAINST KIWIS
Make no mistake, Wales should be a lot stronger this week than they were last week. Wayne Pivac has made six changes and while there were some forced by injury, most of them strengthen the Welsh team. They also have a significantly stronger bench due to the Wales coach’s decision to bench two British and Irish Lions in the form of Wyn Jones and Liam Williams.
The Welsh reserves made no impact against the All Blacks, which might be expected against that team anyway as they tend to finish strongly against all opponents save maybe South Africa, and Pivac will be looking to his bench men to rectify that against the world champions.
The problem he faces though is that the Boks have a strong bench too. During the World Cup and the Lions series, you would have qualified that by saying that it was mainly at forward that the matchday squad had depth, but in the last game the Boks played against the All Blacks, there were contributions from Elton Jantjies and Frans Steyn that changed that perception.
POLLARD LOOKING TO REGAIN CONFIDENCE
Talking of Jantjies, there are areas the Boks will be looking to improve on during this tour, and one of them should be the form of the starting flyhalf Handre Pollard. There’s no denying Pollard’s status as a world-class player and his right to be considered first choice pivot, but during the Australasian leg of the Rugby Championship, he did appear at times to be struggling with his confidence.
The Boks were reminded in their losses to the Wallabies of the need for all aspects of their game to be executed effectively and in front of a massive crowd mostly and noisily supporting Wales, they can’t afford to make the mistakes that might let the Welsh into the game and get the noise volumes up.
The Welsh coaches that have gone in front of the media this week haven’t made any secret of the fact they are expecting the aerial battle to be as important in determining their chances of winning this game as the forward contest, and it’s a good thing that Damian Willemse, making a rare start at fullback, relishes a challenge. For he will face one at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
Indeed, both back threes can anticipate an aerial bombardment, and my money says that Bok coach Jacques Nienaber will be vindicated for going for the experience, organisational skills and sound defensive ability of Jesse Kriel on the wing.
There has been some negative comment around that selection but from a horses-for-courses viewpoint, it makes sense and it is not as if Kriel hasn’t played the position before. If he was selected to play that position in an away test against the All Blacks in 2018, an experiment that was only halted by Lukhanyo Am’s injury (broken arm) and Cheslin Kolbe’s success as the replacement No 14 once Kriel was forced back into the midfield, they must see something in him.
Certainly, Kriel appears to possess all the attributes of a good wing and if there is anything surprising about the selection it is really that he hasn’t played there more often.
On the evidence of last week, the Welsh threat to the Boks might come at the breakdowns, in particular young openside flank Taine Basham, who this week has another regular opensider in Ellis Jenkins with him as his flank partner.
But it is in first phase and the really physical aspects of forward play that this game will be won and lost and the smart money should be on Trevor Nyakane, Eben Etzebeth, De Jager, Duane Vermeulen and company turning the screws on a pack that appears to be short of experience.
It’s a long time since the Boks have won in Cardiff but then it is also a long time since they have started a tour there and played within the international window. The last time they did was in 2013 when they won 24-15. A similar result should be anticipated on Saturday.
Teams and Prediction
WALES: Johnny McNicholl, Louis Rees-Zammit, Jonathan Davies (captain), Nick Tompkins, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams, Aaron Wainwright, Taine Basham, Ellis Jenkins, Adam Beard, Will Rowlands, Tomas Francis, Ryan Elias, Rhys Carre. Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Wyn Jones, WillGriff John, Ben Carter, Seb Davies, Gareth Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Liam Williams.
SOUTH AFRICA: Damian Willemse, Jesse Kriel, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Herschel Jantjies, Duane Vermeulen, Kwagga Smith, Siya Kolisi, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche.
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Franco Mostert, Jasper Wiese, Cobus Reinach, Elton Jantjies, Frans Steyn.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Prediction: Springboks to win by 12 © supersport.com