Preview: Wales v South Africa

Date published: November 9 2013

It's without doubt the clash of the weekend and probably the clash of the entire month as the Springboks visit the Six Nations champions.

It's without doubt the clash of the weekend and probably the clash of the entire month of internationals as the Six Nations champions host second best team in the world.

Quote of the week: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only soft players.” If you want to play for Heyneke Meyer at the next World Cup, you need to be hard. Very hard.

South Africa's coach has figured the best place to start on the road to winning the next World Cup would be to resemble the green and gold machine that last won World Cup, well, at least the parts that are still in top working order. And those that are a little battered, he'll use as back-up for the shiny bits that have just come off South Africa's production line of talent.

It speaks volumes of Jaque Fourie's reputation that Meyer has recalled the 30-year-old as soon as his Japanese club commitments would allow. Of course Meyer would have had a good look at the videos coming in from Japan, but it remains a big call to slot someone straight back into the starting XV after two years away from the international game. Ditto for JP Pietersen, as it was Fourie du Preez a few months ago, but they've earned their stripes.

Even if Bakkies Botha isn't on the team sheet, the kind of influence he can have on the development of Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit while in the squad is immeasurable.

This Bok side's potential to do big things is worth a bit of reflection. Replace Percy Montgomery with 2013 Currie Cup-winner Pat Lambie and Butch James with record-breaking Morne Steyn and you've got Jake White's first-choice backline at the start of the 2007 World Cup, just with six years more experience. Yet the most impressive thing about this team is probably its back row, a muscular unit of hard men that will thrive in the conditions expected in England in 2015.

Back to 2013 and while Meyer is using this tour as a trial for the future, Warren Gatland is looking to build on the momentum created the mostly-Welsh Lions team that brought a plane-load of winning-belief back from Australia. (There were a record-equalling ten Welshmen in the side for the decisive third Test against the Wallabies and fifteen in the squad).

There is no doubt that the Wales team boasts an array of world-class performers but in the six years that Gatland has been in charge, they have only once beaten a southern hemisphere giant (in 22 attempts) and that was Australia, six years ago.

It's a statistic that bares a lot of significance on a mental level, and one that is not lost on Sam Warburton.

“You don't like to admit it but maybe it is psychological. Until you have done it in a Welsh shirt, it won't be the same. Until we beat a southern hemisphere side, we cannot call ourselves contenders for the World Cup,” said the Wales captain.

How do you beat this particular southern hemisphere side? It's not a grand mystery. As assistant coach Shaun Edwards pointed out at the start of the week, square one is facing up to South Africa's massive pack. Easier said than done. Edwards used the expression “gladiatorial” and Meyer loves to use the phrase “put your body on the line for your country”… there will be some sore bodies on both sides come Sunday morning.

Step two is matching the increasingly impressive Springbok attack, which has racked up 39 tries in their nine Tests in 2013. Edwards has admitted that “strike players in Jamie Roberts and Alex Cuthbert will be missed.” Scott and Liam Williams have very big boots to fill.

Belief is nevertheless strong amongst the hosts and a positive result on Saturday will be massive step in the right direction on their own journey to 2015.

Players to watch:

For Wales: It's worth noting that the one position in which Wales didn't have a representative Down Under in July is the most important of all – fly-half. Rhys Priestland is back in favour with Gatland but with James Hook in great form and Dan Biggar pressing hard, a composed performance is required. Scarlets team-mate Jonathan Davies reckons Priestland is a “different person” since returning from injury and a loss of confidence. He has a perfect opportunity to show the national coach he is the man to direct the Welsh backline in the next few years.

For South Africa: All South African eyes will be on Jaque Fourie. Back in his heyday, Fourie was often described – at least in some quarters of the SA press – as 'the best centre in the world' (yes, there was a time when it possible to image someone better than Conrad Smith). With 70-odd caps to his name, Fourie knows what Test rugby is all about, but while he claims to be feeling “refreshed” it remains to be seen if his time in exile has blunted or sharpened his skills.

Head-to-head: Meyer couldn't have asked for a better examination of debutant Frans Malherbe's Test-level credentials than a match-up with Gethin Jenkins. A quality tighthead is a vital component to any team but options beyond the injured Jannie du Plessis are limited. While the Stormers prop is trying to establish himself at the highest level, Jenkins will win his 99th Wales cap – five adrift of Welsh record holder Stephen Jones. If Malherbe isn't the real deal, he'll get found out quickly.

Previous results:
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: Lest we forget that the last times these teams met, South Africa were very lucky to scrape the result by a single point. Indeed, SA's winning margin has only been five or fewer points in each of the last four meetings. In the same breath, we can't ignore the fact that it's been 14 years since Wales claimed their only-ever victory over the Boks. The loss to Japan in June wasn't a great advertisement for their non-Lions either. South Africa have won 10 of their past 12 Tests, losing only to the All Blacks, and are unbeaten in their last 10 Tests against northern hemisphere opposition. If the visitors produce a performance anywhere near what we saw in the nine-try thriller against New Zealand a month ago, it's difficult to imagine anyone in the northern hemisphere living with them. South Africa by nine points.

The teams:

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Justin