The Springboks will be facing a slightly different but definitively stronger Wales side to the one that went down so easily to the All Blacks last weekend, however the challenge will not only be the new personnel but the Boks’ bogey city of Cardiff, writes Oliver Keohane.
The Test history between Wales and Springboks is fairly one sided, with South Africa having emerged victorious 29 of the 36 times the two sides have met, drawing one and losing six. Five of those six losses however have been in the last seven years, and five have also come in Cardiff, at the Principality (previously known as the Millennium Stadium).
The Springboks lost their first ever Test to Wales at the then-Millennium Stadium in June of 1999, going down 29-19. It would be fifteen years before the Welsh would be able to claim victory again, but a 12-6 win in the Autumn Internationals of 2014 marked the start of what has since been an unbeaten home run for Wales against the Springboks.
The Welsh were able to record two more home victories against the Boks in 2016 and 2017, before travelling to the USA in 2018 to upset the South African record further with a 22-20 win in Washington over a young Springbok side. Later that year, Wales were winners again in Rassie Erasmus’s first visit to Cardiff as a coach, as the visitors succumbed meekly 27-13, with the bulk of a team that a year later would beat Wales in the World Cup semi-final, albeit by just three points.
What this Springbok side has not broken though is the curse that has characterised their travels to Cardiff in recent years, and Saturday’s Test stands as no easy route to doing so.
A weakened Wales side were laid waste to by the All Blacks last weekend on Beauden Barrett’s 100th Test. The flyhalf scored two tries to contribute to a seven try total as Wales went down 54-16 after trailing 28-9 on the hour mark. It was a clinical performance from the All Blacks to celebrate Barrett’s milestone, though it must be noted that it was against a Welsh squad missing players due to illness, injury and the fact that the Test fell outside of the international window, leaving their English-based stars unavailable.
One expected a final 20-minute blow out from the All Blacks last weekend, but what one can expect when Wales face up against the Springboks this weekend is for Wayne Pivac to be fielding a very different team. Do not be fooled by the 20 players missing from the Welsh set up last week though, as the reality of the situation was the quality of five integral players who were not available.
Wales Online assessed the injuries incurred over the weekend along with the return of the Welsh front runners to predict a likely starting XV for Saturday’s game. The run-on side sees five changes expected, with seven British & Irish Lions players picked, and it makes for a very different ball game to the record-breaking defeat of last weekend.
While Dan Biggar is available again upon arrival from Northampton, Pivac was vocal in his praise of substitute Rhys Priestland – who is expected to start this weekend – and between the two players Wales have comfort and control in the tactical kicking department, an area on which Saturday’s game will certainly be centred.
The return of Louis Rees-Zemmit and Liam Williams, to accompany winger Josh Adams, is expected to add X-Factor and experience to a back three that will then boast a full British & Irish Lions outfit to help combat the bombs that the Springboks will be hoisting up.
Changes aside, there is always something to be said of history in sport, and the recent history alone of the Springboks in Cardiff dictates that it will be a tough match. South Africa prepare for the Test without Pieter-Steph Du Toit, RG Snyman, Cheslin Kolbe and Faf De Klerk, and it appears that visa issues may prevent Sbu Nkosi from being selected. So it is not without creativity that Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus will have to make their selections.
What gives one confidence is that Nienaber has stressed from the get-go that nobody should expect any drastic changes to the preferred starting side unless enforced by injury, and the respective substitutions will be settled and confident in their role. Many of these players expected to start are still the same men who handed the Welsh defeat in the 2019 World Cup, and though their are notable injuries, there is comfort to be taken in their replacements.
Cobus Reinach has continued to fire for Montpellier after impressing for the Springboks when given the opportunity earlier this year. He will be calm in taking control, especially having so much experience up North.
The only selection that may vary from the norm is that of Aphelele Fassi on the wing, though it is a selection that excites and that much of South Africa has been calling for. Given limited options this year, Fassi has showed that he appears to belong at Test level, and a start on the wing against a Wales side so clinical in their kicking game will be a baptism of fire for Fassi in the Northern Hemisphere. The expectation, however, is that he will excel.
Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard also expressed last week that the return of Rassie Erasmus has been timely and welcomed, saying “It’s going to be great to have him back, we really missed him. He’s got a funny way of getting the best out of us.”
This Springbok side has shown a calm and an incredible trust in their systems time and time again over not only this year, but their World Cup winning year of 2019 too. Though certain players will be missed, their replacements will be trusted and expected to deliver on the day and to break the bad luck that has been cast over Bok teams in Cardiff since 2014.
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