Springboks v Wales preview: Rassie Erasmus’ stars to ‘annihilate’ Warren Gatland’s rookies

Jared Wright
Springboks hooker Malcolm Marx, coaches Rassie Erasmus and Warren Gatland, Wales forward Dewi Lake.

We preview the clash between the Springboks and Wales at Twickenham Stadium.

The back-to-back Rugby World Cup winners return to action as the Springboks tackle Wales at Twickenham Stadium in their first game since hoisting the William Webb Ellis trophy aloft in 2023.

Rassie Erasmus returns as the Boks’ head coach in 2024 and fronts up against his old foe Warren Gatland as the fierce rivalry between South Africa and Wales adds another chapter at the home of English rugby.

While the two proud rugby nations are not traditional rivals, the ferocity of recent encounters and the closeness of the results make for feisty affairs, and hopefully, Saturday will be no different.

The last meeting between the two sides ahead of the World Cup was a true outliner as the Springboks marched to a 52-16 victory in Cardiff as four of the previous six matches between the Springboks and Wales were decided by five points or less.

Meanwhile, the two sides arrive in London with vastly contrasting form guides with the Springboks having last played in the tournament in France, winning their knockout matches over France, England and New Zealand by a single point.

As for Wales, after their quarter-final defeat to Argentina, Gatland’s charges lost all five of their Six Nations matches, collecting the Wooden Spoon for the first time in over two decades.

With the Springboks facing Ireland after this one-off Test and Wales heading to Australia, the match-up provides the outfits with the opportunity to shake off the rust ahead of the July internationals.

Where the game will be won

South Africa head into the fixture as overwhelming favourites despite both sides being hampered by the inability to select overseas-based players.

If Wales are to have any hope of claiming an upset or keeping the match close then their ability to get some parity in the set-pieces is crucial; if they fail to do so, then a record win for the Springboks is certainly possible.

Despite the injury to Steven Kitshoff and the unavailability of the Bulls forwards, Siya Kolisi, Thomas du Toit and others, the Springboks boast an imposing forward pack consisting of seven double Rugby World Cup winners.

That includes an all-star front-row, with Malcolm Marx making his long-awaited return and the powerhouse prop duo of Ox Nche and Vincent Koch.

The Springboks are renowned for their approach to the scrum as they will always seek out an opportunity to win a penalty and march up the pitch.

Wales will need to do damage limitation in the scrums at the very least, which will be a real concern, having already lost Henry Thomas to injury before the game and have had their struggles in the set-piece recently.

While the scrum will be of major importance and have a bearing on the final result, the lineouts will be just as crucial as it will be where Wales could have the best chance of unlocking the Bok defence.

Clean attacking ball from the set-piece will be a must for both teams but hugely important for Wales in particular, and their ability to contest and disrupt the Springboks’ platform will go a long way in potentially claiming a shock result.

Springboks team winners and losers as Rassie Erasmus stuns with picks for Wales showdown

Last time they met

What they said

Wales boss Gatland sees the clash against the world champions as a massive opportunity for his young players, particularly with the growing injury list.

“We have our backs to the wall a little bit this week, but we are really excited about the challenge,” he said. “I see it as a great opportunity for other players to step up and put their hands up.

“I don’t see it any differently from when I arrived in 2008 and was asked by Roger Lewis (then WRU chief executive) ‘Who do you want to play’? I said any time we can play a Southern Hemisphere team we need to jump at that chance.

“That is the way you improve. Not just in rugby, but any sport, by playing against the best. That is the biggest part of the development.”

He added: “Test match rugby is tough and physical – you have got to be able to handle adversity. You have to go through that pain sometimes and be able to come out the other side.

“There is nothing wrong with that. You have to be brave and overcome your fear factor.

“You are going out there and playing against big men, and it is going to hurt, and you have to go through some pain.

“There are lots of things about playing at the top level. It’s tough, and there are going to be lots of different emotions and things to challenge yourself on.”

Meanwhile, Erasmus is relishing the challenge of going up against Gatland and playing at Twickenham again after a memorable win over New Zealand last year.

“We always find the Welsh are a more South African type of team who also like to grind it out and go with you to the dark and tough places,” he said. “We are playing at Twickenham, so I think there will be a lot of South African and Welsh supporters, so it’ll be neutral grounds.

“We enjoyed playing the All Blacks there last year, and I think Warren will definitely get his guys up. They have a five-game losing streak, but you can also look at it another way.

“In the last ten games we played (against each other), it is 5-5. The stats re something of the past – Saturday will be something new.”

Wales team winners and losers as Warren Gatland continues front-row tinkering against Springboks

Players to watch

There is so much class and experience in the Bok pack, but Saturday provides the opportunity for a rising star to stamp his mark in a starting role as Evan Roos fills the number eight jumper with Jasper Wiese ruled out through suspension. Roos has been in unreal form for the Stormers over the past three seasons but hasn’t quite burst onto the scene in the Green and Gold due to South Africa’s depth. Against Wales, he has the chance to really stake his claim, and press for further involvements going forward.

Erasmus has named four uncapped players in the matchday squad, and every single one of them is a real prospect, with the Lions finally seeing some representation in the Bok team with fly-half Jordan Hendrikse and wing Edwill van der Merwe making their Test debuts. The former’s inclusion took many by surprise, but there is no doubting his potential and quality. Meanwhile, the latter has been handed the opportunity on the wing after injuries to Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse, and could make a real splash on the international scene with a similar style of play.

Staying with the debutants and Stormers duo Ben-Jason Dixon and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu have been named among the replacements and are also two players primed to enjoy an extended run in the team. Erasmus has likened Dixon to Pieter-Steph du Toit while Feinberg-Mngomezulu is quite simply a generational talent as we see a future Springbok centurion taking his first steps onto the big stage.

During the 2008 tour of South Africa, Gatland named Jamie Roberts at inside centre for the first time in what was his first start in the position of his career. Another Cardiff star, who has drawn so many comparisons to the Lions and Wales great, will now make the same jump against the Boks. Mason Grady is clearly a long-term international for Wales, and the powerhouse 22-year-old could follow Roberts’ footsteps, becoming another great inside centre as he features in the position for the first time this weekend. A powerful ball carrier, Gatland explained that he just wants Grady to get the ball in his hands more and with the excellent Andre Esterhuizen in the opposing jumper, he has a major task on his hands this weekend.

A quality modern-day lock-blindside flanker hybrid is incredibly hard to find nowadays, but in Taine Plumtree, Gatland has a real star. The son of ex-All Black and current Sharks boss John Plumtree, Taine showed flashes of brilliance when making his debut last year for Wales before injury struck. Now back in the squad, a clash against the Springboks provides him with the opportunity to really show his quality.

It says a great deal that Liam Williams’ return to the Wales jumper has not resulted in Cameron Winnett shifting from the starting full-back role. The youngster was a shining light in an otherwise disastrous Six Nations campaign, and he will be eager to continue that form in the red jersey.

Main head-to-head

There are certainly tasty match-ups across the two starting XVs, but none more so than the one in the middle of the front-row as Malcolm Marx and Dewi Lake return from injuries to reclaim starting roles.

Having last played a match during the Rugby World Cup pool stages, we cannot expect too much from Springboks star Marx, but frankly, it is fantastic to see the world-class front-rower back in action. When fully fit, he is easily one of, if not, the best hookers in world rugby and despite the lack of game time under his belt, expect him to come out firing. He is like having an extra openside flanker on the pitch, and we will have to wait and see if his knee injury has impacted his approach much.

Meanwhile, Lake returns to the Welsh jersey after a spell on the sidelines, which saw him miss the Six Nations. Much is expected of the front-rower who will skipper the side on Saturday, having shown signs of real potential and got stuck into the Springboks on tour in 2022. He is a tough customer, and if he can stay fit and get a good run of injury-free matches under his belt, he will press into that elite bracket of hookers.

We highlighted the set-pieces as the area of the match where the match will be won and figurative, and literally, these two stars will be at the centre of their side’s success in those two facets of the game.


Wales thrive with the underdog tag, and you can never really write off a Gatland-led side, but this time around, it just looks too much of a mountain for his side to climb. The Springboks are far more experienced, highlighted by the fact that the updated Welsh pack collectively has just Test cap more than Eben Etzebeth, and man-for-man look the better side with possibly one exception.

There is a chance that Wales could catch the Springboks cold, but it is highly unlikely. We’d expect Erasmus to kick off his second tenure as head coach with an annihilating victory of at least 30 points, if not more.

Previous results

2023: South Africa won 52-16 in Cardiff
2022: South Africa won 40-30 in Cape Town
2022: Wales won 13-12 in Bloemfontein
2022: South Africa won 32-29 in Pretoria
2021: South Africa won 23-18 in Cardiff
2019: South Africa won 19-16 in Yokohama (RWC)
2018: South Africa won 20-11 in Cardiff
2018: Wales won 22-20 in Washington DC
2017: Wales won 24-22 in Cardiff
2016: Wales won 27-13 in Cardiff

The teams

South Africa: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit (c), 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Ben-Jason Dixon, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, 23 Damian de Allende

Wales: 15 Cameron Winnett, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Mason Grady, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Ellis Bevan, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 James Botham, 6 Taine Plumtree, 5 Ben Carter, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Keiron Assiratti, 2 Dewi Lake, 1 Gareth Thomas
Replacements: 16 Evan Lloyd, 17 Kemsley Mathias, 18 Harri O’Connor, 19 James Ratti, 20 Mackenzie Martin, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Eddie James, 23 Jacob Beetham

Date: Saturday, June 22
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 14:00 BST (13:00 GMT, 15:00 SA time)
Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Christophe Ridley (England), Adam Leal (England)
TMO: Mark Patton (Ireland)
Coverage: BBC iPlayer, SuperSport, S4C

READ MORE: The complete June-July fixture list including dates, venues and match officials