Preview: South Africa v Wales

Date published: June 13 2014


Searching once again for a win over a SANZAR giant, Wales travel to Durban to take on the might of the Springboks this Saturday.

Searching once again for a win over a SANZAR giant, Wales travel to Durban to take on the might of the Springboks this Saturday.

They would do well to take a note out of England's book after their performance in Auckland last weekend.

Sure, England lost against a New Zealand side on a bad, bad day, but they made sure that 95 percent of what they produced – from the scrum to the lineout to their handling – was spot on.

But the spirit and ambition was admirable. It would be easy for Wales psychologically to believe after so many grimaces following this fixture in recent times that beating South Africa is a step too far. For the most successful European side since the last Rugby World Cup, that's unacceptable.

Wales' record too against the Southern Hemisphere sides in general is unacceptable. It has hung around their neck for so long, but is worth reiterating. Nothing against Australia since 2008. No success against South Africa since 1999. A long dismal run against the All Blacks since 1953.

A victory on this tour doesn't feel likely down to the number of absentees. Leigh Halfpenny, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric are all key figures who bring their own individual skill sets to Warren Gatland's side.

Being without Halfpenny doesn't just deprive Wales of a talented goalkicker, but a major attacking threat who is robust under the high ball and possesses superb vision. He wasn't the Lions Player of the Series for nothing.

Warburton's injury record is becoming a great concern ahead of the next World Cup, but the Lions skipper's influence is undeniable. He too will be missed.

They have able replacements in Liam Williams and Aaron Shingler, but not of the same quality. Williams' disciplinary record is far from excellent and his aggression can go two ways against the Boks – Wales do not need to be spending portions of the match with 14 men.

This year's Six Nations according to many marked the death of 'Warrenball', with the losses to Ireland and England confirming that Wales had finally been caught out. Even the hammering of 14-man Scotland back in Cardiff couldn't truly mask the concern.

This is the first chance to see if Gatland has decided to tweak the system, fortunate enough to pick from a squad who except for George North are well rested from their lack of action in the playoffs. Whether having Romain Poite officiating in the middle hands Wales an advantage remains to be seen.

Wales' key cogs are all available for action – their experience at the set-piece will be essential against a vintage Springbok pack.

Sometimes however the best teams are unstoppable. Think back to November last year and the try from Jean de Villiers (who will miss Saturday and the series with a knee injury.)

The speed of Bryan Habana escaping the clutches of George North, followed by the power of Bismarck du Plessis as he clattered through Liam Williams before finding his captain for the score. Some tries are undefendable – and South Africa produce them time and again.

They do not lack for experience. There are 707 caps in total throughout the side, with Victor Matfield winning his 111th to tie John Smit's record. Their bench is outstanding, featuring Schalk Brits, Tendai Mtawarira, Schalk Burger and Ruan Pienaar along with the talented pair of Johan Goosen and Lwazi Mvovo.

New Zealand's unbeaten record in 2013 naturally overshadowed a good year for South Africa, but their performances shouldn't be forgotten.

They matched New Zealand stride for stride in that humdinger at Ellis Park, arguably peaking earlier with the 38-12 thrashing of Ewen McKenzie's disjointed Wallabies in Brisbane.

The Springboks will field two new caps however in Durban. Cornal Hendricks, the former Sevens speedster, makes his Test debut. What he has shown in Super Rugby with the Cheetahs is that given the opportunity, he is ready to pounce. His uncapped team-mate, Lood de Jager, is a replacement.

Scrum dominance for the Springboks is perhaps to be expected after Gethin Jenkins' struggles in the Six Nations to stay on the right side of the officials, something that Jannie du Plessis will have taken note of.

But it's the return of Bakkies Botha and Matfield that truly fires up South African excitement. Two top competitors who have seen it all but still deliver. The roar for Botha's try last week against the World XV could be heard around the Western Cape.

Ones to Watch:

Key Players:

For South Africa: More focus perhaps would be attached to the breakdown if Warburton and Tipuric were in town, but their absence gives Francois Louw the chance to excel. The Bath flanker is a master of the breakdown and will hound Wales all day long, whether it's slowing down their possession or poaching turnovers. He will have to be contained. Was recently excellent in the Challenge Cup Final loss to Northampton. His work in tandem throughout 2013 alongside Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen showed perfect balance.

For Wales: Gatland's men need their big men to stand tall, which is where the power of Jamie Roberts comes in. Wales will go nowhere unless the Racing Métro centre can get them behind the defensive line. The pair of Jan Serfontein and JP Pietersen is a new combination for the Boks. If Roberts can cause some uncertainty and find his way through those defenders on a consistent basis, Wales have hope. Roberts looked back to his best during the Six Nations. He has to be at his peak at King's Park.

Head to Head: The two skippers. Seeing Victor Matfield run out again in a Springbok jersey still has a novel feeling about it, but he's not here for a farewell tour. In the Bulls' decimation of the Brumbies a few weeks ago he was out of this world, reminding those watching that he is not just a lineout operator but also a superb rugby player.

Up against him of course is Wales' own number five and captain, Alun Wyn Jones. The captain in the Lions' third Test last year against Australia, Jones' competitive edge and work-rate are highly rated and rightly so. Wales will need his inspiration, but he also has the ability to disrupt a lineout and leave holes in the defence when on the run.

Previous Results:
2013: South Africa won 25-14 in Cardiff2011: 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: Difficult to see past the home side based on recent results. Wales' best hope is to get ahead early and hope Dan Biggar can maintain the lead with the boot. But the Boks have too many weapons, too much experience, and should hold the