Wales will be hoping to finish their tour of South Africa on a high when they face the Springboks in the series decider in Cape Town on Saturday.
That is easier said than done as they will come up against a South Africa side who will be determined to bounce back after suffering a shock defeat against the tourists in Bloemfontein last weekend.
That result was a momentous one for Wales as it was the first time they managed to beat the Boks on South African soil. Although the visitors will be going all out for a win on Saturday, their tour will still be regarded as a success regardless of the result as they came into the series as overwhelming underdogs.
After a forgettable Six Nations campaign – where they finished fifth and lost to bottom-placed Italy – many pundits believed Wales would be like lambs to the slaughter against the Boks, who were widely tipped to seal a comfortable 3-0 series win.
It wasn’t to be, however, as the visitors were competitive from the outset and after suffering a narrow 32-29 defeat in their Test opener in Pretoria, they squared the series courtesy of that 13-12 triumph in Bloemfontein in the second Test.
Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber made a whopping 14 changes to his starting line-up for that encounter as he gave several of the fringe players in his 42-man squad some game-time but it could be argued that his plan backfired as they lost that encounter, although Nienaber was always likely to recall his first-choice players for this weekend’s Test.
Regardless of that, their defeat in the second Test means the current world champions will be feeling the pressure as they head into this clash and it must be remembered that recent matches in this fixture have been tight affairs, with the winning margin being five points or fewer in six of the last seven Tests between these countries.
What happened in the first Test
After claiming a narrow 32-29 victory in Pretoria in the series opener, the Springboks sprung a surprise when they made wholesale changes for the second Test against in Bloemfontein. Although the Boks tried to change their style by opting to play more expansively, they were frustrated by a solid defensive effort from Wayne Pivac‘s troops and the sides were deadlocked at 3-3 at half-time after Dan Biggar and Handre Pollard traded early penalties. The Boks reverted to type after the interval and held a 12-3 lead by the hour-mark after Pollard succeeded with three further penalties before Gareth Anscombe narrowed the gap when he added a three-pointer off the kicking tee in the 67th minute. That set up a tense finish and Wales stunned their hosts when Josh Adams crossed for a try in the left-hand corner in the 78th minute before Anscombe showed his class to slot the conversion from close to the touchline and, in doing so, he clinched his country’s maiden win against the Boks on South African soil.
What they said
After last week’s defeat, Springbok tighthead prop Frans Malherbe expects an improved effort from the world champions but is braced for another tough challenge from Wales.
“The fact that we lost last week’s match is a reality, so it is our responsibility to be clinical and efficient in our preparation this week and to do everything we can to win what is essentially a final,” he said.
“The teams are tied one-all in the series, so Wales will enter the match with a lot of self-confidence. For us it will be a matter of working on the areas of our game that we need to be improve on so we can be more effective.”
Meanwhile, Wales wing Adams is preparing himself for a tough challenge and expects Saturday’s Test to go down to the wire.
“South Africa are a great team. They’ve shown that over the two Tests and it’s been close in both games. I’ve no doubt it will be exactly the same this weekend,” he said.
“It’s important to focus our minds on being the first team to come out here and win a Test series. That’s our sole goal as a squad.”
Players to watch
Whatever the end result in this encounter, it will be a memorable fixture for Springbok hardman Eben Etzebeth, who will run out for the 100th time at Test level for the three-time world champions and doing it in his hometown will make it extra special. The 30-year-old second-row is a genuine enforcer, who gives his all to the Springbok cause and will be at the forefront of the Bok forward onslaught as they look to put one over their Welsh counterparts. Rated as one of the world’s best players in his position, Etzebeth relishes the physical nature of the game and will be in the thick of the action from the outset. The only Springbok to start all three Tests against Wales, Etzebeth will be determined to mark the special occasion with a victory.
🇿🇦 South Africa have played 114 Tests since Eben Etzebeth’s debut in 2012.
🤯 The great second-row has featured in 99 of them, with his 100th cap coming this weekend. Incredible talent and durability. 👏 pic.twitter.com/EEZSR4NS3k
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) July 13, 2022
Another player who will be celebrating a milestone match is Bok hooker Bongi Mbonambi, who is making his 50th appearance for South Africa. Like Etzebeth, Mbonambi is a vital cog in the Springbok machine who always gives his all to the cause. Excellent in the execution of his core duties, the 31-year-old has cemented his place in the Boks’ run-on side with some outstanding performances in recent years and will look to hit the ground running as the Boks’ forwards attempt to take control of proceedings in the hope of setting up a solid platform for their backs.
Also keep an eye on young scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse, whose selection came as a major surprise as it was at the expense of veteran number nine Faf de Klerk, who has been named as one of the Bok replacements. Despite being just 22 years of age and playing in only his fourth Test, Hendrikse is highly rated in South Africa. He has an impressive skill-set with a crisp service to his outside backs and has an excellent kicking game. It’s the latter department which will be in the spotlight as it’s an important facet of play in the Boks’ armoury and if he masters that, it should pave the way to victory for his team.
For the tourists, one player who will be keen to make an impact is experienced outside centre George North, who will become Wales’ most capped backline player when he takes to the field in this match. The 30-year-old made his Test return in this series, after a one-year absence due to a serious knee injury, but North’s contribution to the Welsh cause has been restricted mostly to defensive duties as he has had little opportunities to show off his outstanding attacking skill-set. Hopefully, that changes on Saturday.
Wales have done well in the forward exchanges during this series and one player who has been very consistent for the tourists is Ospreys second-row Adam Beard. The British and Irish Lions lock will start his third successive Test and, like the two previous encounters, he is expected to win the the bulk of Wales’ lineout possession. The 26-year-old has also impressed on defence as he puts his body on the line in that department, especially at close quarters around the fringes of the rucks and mauls.
The visitors received a shot in the arm when their captain Dan Biggar was declared fit for this showdown after he was forced off the field in Bloemfontein with a shoulder injury. Although his replacement, Anscombe, shone during that game’s closing stages, Biggar’s presence is important for Wales as he is a vital cog in the Welsh machine. He brings out the best in his team-mates while his decision making under pressure has been superb so far. Wales supporters will be expecting a big shift from him on Saturday.
With the home side welcoming back their first-choice players, it means inspirational skipper Siya Kolisi is amongst those to return to action and his duel with Wales’ rookie flanker Tommy Reffell should be one of the highlights of this fixture. Reffell has been one of the stars of Wales’ tour and despite playing in only his third Test, the Boks, and especially Kolisi, will be wary of him and the threat he poses both as a defender and on the ground where he has won some crucial turnovers in the two previous matches.
Kolisi started the series opener in Pretoria but had a quiet game by his high standards while Reffell was thriving and the Springbok was yanked off early in the second half. The home side actually played better while he was off the field and managed to claim a come-from-behind win on that occasion. However, it must be remembered that the Bok skipper is South Africa’s player of the year and he seldom performs poorly in successive matches. Although he is not a breakdown specialist like Reffell, Kolisi has other strengths with his ball carrying in particular an area which he will be keen to shine in to give his side attacking momentum.
With most of their big guns back, the home side will have a spring in their step and they are unlikely to deviate from their tried and trusted methods which has brought them plenty of success in recent years. Although Wales will meet fire with fire, the Boks power game will give them an edge. South Africa to win by three points.
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
South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Elrigh Louw, 22 Faf de Klerk, 23 Willie le Roux
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 George North, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar (c), 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Gareth Thomas
Replacements: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Sam Wainwright, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Owen Watkin
Date: Saturday, July 16
Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town
Kick-off: 17:05 local (16:05 BST, 15:05 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
TMO: Brett Cronan (Australia)
South Africa v Wales preview
Planet Rugby previews the series deciding third Test between South Africa and Wales at the Cape Town Stadium.