Preview: South Africa v Wales

Date published: October 16 2015

Two teams with relatively similar styles kick off the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals as South Africa face Wales at Twickenham on Saturday.

It may be an over simplification of a complex situation, but it's fair to label the approach taken by these two sides as 'direct.' When 'Warrenball' meets 'stampkar rugby' the result can only be a lot of bruised bodies; it is sure to be a monumentally physical battle.  

Both sets of coaching staff would be quick to point out that their game plans are not as simple as is popularly portrayed – Heyneke Meyer is keen to highlight how many tries the Springbok wings have scored in recent weeks – but we can expect plenty of big ball carriers making hard yards up route one and lots of wingers chasing bombs at the home of English rugby this weekend.

That's not to say it won't be entertaining, since recent history has thrown up a series of close battles between the Springboks and Dragons.

Of their previous 30 Tests, Wales have only managed two wins and a draw, but the men in red were the victors the last time these teams met, winning 12-6 in Cardiff last November. They were also extremely unlucky to lose 31-30 at the death in Nelspruit a few months before having gone down 17-16 in their only previous World Cup clash against the Boks, in their Pool opener in 2011.

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This time around should be no different and there are a handful of enticing match ups across the park, notably the loose trios. In midfield, three of the four centres on display are youngsters who must back their instincts over a lack of experience while veteran Jamie Roberts will be the focus, as ever, of the Welsh attack which has lacked a sharp edge of late with just a single try from their last two games against Tier one opposition – England and Australia.   

The Welsh rush defence however has been outstanding. With just two tries conceded in four games in the 'Pool of Death', Wales have made their defensive game their key weapon. 

Warren Gatland's men will certainly be battle hardened having emerged from one of the toughest groups in the history of the tournament but the Springboks will not be found wanting it terms of intensity. 'Backs against the wall' has been the catch phrase since their horrific start to the competition that has left them playing 'knockout' games for the past three weeks. 

Skipper Sam Warburton insists his troops have no doubts they can beat the Boks, and are drawing confidence from that positive result at the Millennium Stadium 11 months ago. But there are some key differences to note when comparing this game to that one, most importantly that South Africa will line up a very different team to the side that was at the end of a tiring tour and missing their overseas-based players. 

Unlike Wales, South Africa will have very close to their ideal team at Twickenham, led by a barnstorming second row featuring two of the best players in the tournament.

South Africa must thus wear the favourites tag although that is not necessarily situation that works in their favour. An intense battle awaits. 

Players to watch:

For South Africa: No player is more influential in the Springbok line up than veteran scrum-half Fourie du Preez, who has never lost to Wales in seven games. The captain holds the key to how the Boks execute their simple yet effective game plan and the decisions he makes are likely to be decisive to the outcome. Much will also depend on the accuracy of two-time World Rugby Player of the Year nominee's box kicks under which Bryan Habana has the potential to cause havoc, and break Jonah Lomu's RWC try-scoring record.

For Wales: 20-year-old Tyler Morgan is the youngest player still in the Rugby World Cup. He will win just his third cap for Wales, who have used four different players at outside centre due to their injury crisis. Morgan did a good job against Fiji and is an out-and-out 13, the only specialist option available to Gatland who doesn't "see any debate about the selection." Despite his coach's backing, it's a massive pressure situation for a young man, and he will no doubt be a target for the Boks. 

Head-to-head: The clash of the number eights, Taulupe Faletau and Duane Vermeulen, promises to be epic. Both are key elements in their sides respective game plans as ball carriers and both are remarkably efficient at the breakdown. Their head-to-head battle will be an extension of the tussle on the deck between two excellent loose trios, that could well decide the outcome. 

Team news: Springbok head coach Heyneke Meyer has made one change to his starting XV. JP Pietersen – who scored a hat-trick against Samoa comes in at the expense of Lwazi Mvovo, who drops out of the matchday 23. Frans Malherbe keeps his place at tighthead prop ahead of Jannie du Plessis. Wales have made three changes to their team that lost against Australia, with Dan Lydiate, Gethin Jenkins and Tyler Morgan all coming back into the team. Lydiate forms a familiar back-row combination with captain Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau, who will start a record seventh RWC match together.

Previous Results:

2014: Wales won 12-6 in Cardiff
2014: South Africa won 31-30 in Nelspruit
2014: South Africa won 38-16 in Durban
2013: South Africa won 25-14 in Cardiff
2011: South Africa won 17-16 in Wellington
2010: South Africa won 29-25 in Cardiff
2010: South Africa won 34-31 in Cardiff
2008: South Africa won 20-15 in Cardiff
2008: South Africa won 37-21 in Pretoria
2008: South Africa won 43-17 in Bloemfontein
2007: South Africa won 34-12 in Cardiff
2005: South Africa won 33-16 in Cardiff

Prediction: History suggests it will be a be close one but considering Wales' injury troubles and the momentum the Springboks seem to be gaining, we'll back South Africa to win by less than seven points.

The teams:

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements:16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.

Wales: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Tom Francis, 19 Bradley Davies 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 James Hook

Date: Saturday, October 17
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 16:00 local (15:00 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle (England), George Clancy (Ireland)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

By Ross Hastie in London