South Africa to edge out Wales in brutal encounter

David Skippers

Expect fireworks when Wales and South Africa go head-to-head in their highly anticipated Rugby World Cup semi-final in Yokohama on Sunday.

With a place in the most prestigious game of the last four years at stake, these teams will be determined to secure victory and all signs point to this being a hard-fought and brutal encounter with the end result decided by a moment of brilliance or a mistake from one of the protagonists.

Wales head into this fixture in a confident mood as they have won all five of their previous matches at the global showpiece. They got their campaign underway with a 43-14 triumph over Georgia before edging out Australia 29-25 in one of the standout games of the tournament. They were made to work hard in their remaining pool matches, against Fiji and Uruguay, but despite slow starts, eventually claimed 29-17 and 35-13 victories.

And last weekend, they had to dig deep in their quarter-final against France with only a late converted Ross Moriarty try securing them a narrow 20-19 win over Les Bleus in Oita.

Although all those victories were not convincing, the Six Nations champions will fancy their chances against the Springboks as they have dominated this fixture in recent years and won the last four matches between these teams.

The Boks hold the upper hand at the World Cup, however, as the sides have met twice in previous tournaments with the two-time world champions victorious on both occasions – in 2011 (17-16) during a pool match in Wellington and in 2015 (23-19) in a quarter-final showdown at Twickenham.

Both sides love the physical aspect of the game and employ low-risk game-plans with an emphasis on exploiting mistakes made by their opponents. South Africa are the masters of the power game and they were at their brilliant best in that aspect during their 26-3 victory over Japan in their quarter-final in Tokyo last weekend.

Prior to that, they finished the pool phase of the competition on a high with impressive wins over Namibia (57-3), Italy (49-3) and Canada (66-7). This, after their campaign started on a low note courtesy of a 23-13 defeat to defending champions New Zealand in their opening match.

Their physical dominance – especially in the forward exchanges – has shown steady improvement as the tournament has progressed but that facet of play will be severely tested against Wales, who have the pack to stand up to the challenge posed by their Bok counterparts.

Both sides were dealt injury blows in the build-up to this encounter and it will be interesting to see how they adapt to these setbacks. Springboks wing Cheslin Kolbe and Wales full-back Liam Williams have both been ruled out with ankle injuries while Wales have also lost the services of back-row Josh Navidi, who injured his hamstring against France.

There will be plenty of motivation too on Sunday and a certain degree of desperation in both camps to prevail, notably for Wales as head coach Warren Gatland is set to leave his position at the end of the tournament.

Gatland’s players will be determined to give their boss a winning send-off in the final at the same venue on November 2 and not in the bronze medal play-off in Tokyo a day before that.

Players to watch:

For Wales: As his team’s captain and most experienced player, Alun Wyn Jones has huge responsibility on his shoulders. The 34-year-old is a vital cog in Wales’ wheel and apart from his excellent leadership skills, his general play and prowess at the lineouts will be crucial if the Six Nations champions are to advance to their first Rugby World Cup final. Jones will have to be particularly impressive in the latter department as the Springboks have the best lineout in the tournament.

For South Africa: The Springboks suffered a massive blow when they lost the services of star wing Cheslin Kolbe to injury for this fixture. His replacement Sbu Nkosi has big boots to fill as Kolbe has been one of the best attacking players at this World Cup. But although he will be missed, Nkosi is a good replacement who brings his own attacking skills to the party. The 23-year-old is a strong runner with quick feet and is blessed with plenty of speed. He has already made his mark in the international arena by scoring eight tries in 10 Tests and will be determined to add to that tally this weekend.

Head-to-head: As the main playmakers in their respective sides, there will be plenty of pressure on Wales pivot Dan Biggar and his Springbok counterpart, Handre Pollard. Biggar has done well in the implementation of Wales’ game-plan and despite criticism from some quarters in Wales, has been one of his side’s best players at the tournament. He faces a tough challenge from Pollard, who, despite being unspectacular, has come to the fore with several solid performances and played a leading role during the Boks’ campaign. The duo are also amongst the tournament’s leading point-scorers with Pollard currently in fourth position with 33 points while Biggar is in sixth place with 30 points.

Previous meetings:

2018: Wales 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
2015: South Africa won 23-19 in London (RWC)
2014: Wales won 12-6 in Cardiff
2014: South Africa won 31-30 in Nelspruit
2014: South Africa won 38-14 in Durban

Prediction: With plenty at stake, this should be a thrilling contest and don’t be surprised if it goes down to the wire. Although it will be close, the Springboks’ forward onslaught will hold the key to victory. South Africa to win by three points.

The teams:

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Aaron Shingler, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn

Date: Sunday, October 27
Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama
Kick-off: 18:00 local (09:00 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)