Date: Saturday 13th November
Kick off: 14:30
Venue: Millennium Stadium
Turn the clock back to February 2009 and Wales were being lavished with praise for the expansive and attacking brand of rugby they were playing. Roll forward eighteen months to the aftermath of defeat against Australia last week and the difference could not be any more marked. Wales played like a side whose ambition matched their expectations, only managing to make two clean breaks over the course of eighty minutes.
Thankfully, the selection options available to Warren Gatland this week have reduced the prospect of such a dire statistic being repeated, with Lee Bryne in particular making a very welcome earlier-than-expected return from injury. With the supposed lesser game against Fiji next week, Saturday’s encounter takes on real significance, as Wales look to build momentum, prior to facing the All Blacks.
The Springboks have become something of an enigma of late. A single Tri-Nations victory in 2010 contrasts poorly with the heights they reached in 2009, when they were crowned Tri-Nations champions and picked up a Lions series win.
Few rugby observers would rate Peter De Villiers’ side anywhere near the same bracket as their Wallaby or All Black counterparts, especially not in terms of the brand of expansive rugby they play. And yet the Boks showed enough mettle to squeeze past Ireland last week, in spite of a lengthy injury list. As well as that victory in Dublin, the South Africans will take even more confidence from their last trip to Cardiff In June: a narrow win, but with an even more experimental line-up.
What to expect:
It would be an over-simplification to expect Wales to throw caution to the wind, but the selection of James Hook at inside centre and Martyn Williams at openside flanker does promise a much looser approach. The main concern for Wales will be the potential for them to be out-muscled at the gainline by a much more powerful looking Springbok back row.
Head to heads:
James Hook and Francois Steyn
While Steyn may be in his less-favoured outside centre position, the midfield battle between two genuine flair players could provide the key to either side’s attacking success.
Martyn Williams and Juan Smith:
Making his 100th Welsh test appearance after a reprieve due to Sam Warbuton’s sidelining with a calf-injury, Martyn Williams will hope he can out-fox his back row opponent in a similar fashion to when the two last came head-to-head in the third Lions test in Johannesburg.
All eyes on:
Against a Springbok team crammed with footballing ability, Lee Byrne is likely to have a busy afternoon on his return to the Welsh full-back spot. Wales will also be looking to Byrne for some much-needed inspiration with ball in hand.
For the Springboks, Pierre Spies’ pace and power is more than a handful for any test team, let alone one with a much lamented back-row. If Lydiate and Thomas fail to stop the threat posed by Spies, it could be a very long afternoon.
Weather forecast: Whether or not the roof remains open is likely to have little effect on the outcome the game. Sunny intervals, with a chance of showers have been forecast for Saturday.
SportGuru prediction statistics: Wales 28.31%, South Africa 70.06%, Draw 0.91%
If Wales can find some spark to add to the solidity of last week’s showing, they may push the Boks close. In reality however the South Africans are likely to have just too much power and nous for the home-side. South Africa by 7.