On Saturday evening the Millennium Stadium will play host to two of international rugby’s most muscular outfits. This is the first time the sides have met since the 2011 World Cup and Wales will be fully aware of their terrible record against the Springboks, having only beaten them once in the last 107 years. South Africa have only been beaten twice in 2013, both times by an impeccable New Zealand side, and after finishing second in the Rugby Championship, the visitors will be looking to leave Europe with nothing less than a clean sweep. Wales are coming off the back of a disappointing tour of Japan, but the touring party was more of a development squad and now Wales have all of their British and Irish Lions back as they attempt to maul some powerful Springboks.
Injuries have forced Warren Gatland to pick a fresh-faced backline. Liam Williams replaces Eli Walker, who suffered a hamstring injury in training on Thursday. Talisman Jamie Roberts is also unavailable due to an ankle injury. He will be replaced by Scott Williams who joins Scarlets teammate Jonathan Davies in the midfield.
Rhys Preistland is set to return at fly half, after recovering from the achilles injury that kept him out of the Six Nations. Mike Phillips retains the nine shirt despite being sacked by Bayonne last week. He is the obvious choice as he is known for his physicality and will look to go toe to toe with the South African pack.
Gatland boasts an embarrassment of back row riches as Dan Lydiate is joined by British and Irish Lions team mates Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau. Lydiate is back in a Wales shirt after a year-long absence due to injury, and will be called upon to chop down the big South African runners, with Warburton looking to slow down and steal Springbok ball. Justin Tipuric is on the bench and Gatland will look to utilise his searing pace against tired legs. Bradley Davies will pack down with the formidable Alun-Wyn Jones in the second row.
The Welsh front row also consists of three British and Irish Lions. Experienced prop Gethin Jenkins will look to exert pressure on new boy Frans Malberhe, as he is joined by Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones. Hibbard will go head to head with the world’s best hooker, Bismark Du Plessis, in what promises to be a thrillingly violent encounter.
The Springboks travel to the Millennium stadium brimming with quality and experience. Heyneke Meyer has called up JP Pietersen and Jaque Fourie to join a backline already full of seasoned veterans. Stormers prop Malberhe will make his international debut at tight head after Jannie Du Plessis was ruled out of the tour because of a chronic shoulder injury.
South Africa will be looking to beat Wales at their own game. Their colossal pack is more than capable of outmuscling a Welsh side that prides itself on physicality. The Springboks boast a massive artillery with the likes of Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts and Francois Louw in the back-row.
With the exception of Pat Lambie and Morne Steyn, the South African backline is identical to the one that started the 2007 world cup final. Time has certainly done little to dull a potent attacking outfit and with JJ Engelbrecht and the exhilarating Willie le Roux on the bench, the visitors are not short of influential substitutes.
All eyes on
Leigh Halfpenny was the star of the Lions tour but he will have to be at his very best to deal with the kicking nous of Steyn. But Wales have as much faith in his high-ball abilities as they do in his flawless goal kicking, and rightly so. Halfpenny’s expert positioning makes him nearly impossible to catch out. He is as ruthless in defence as he is effective in attack, his ability to pick a line and his acute sense of timing enabling him to glide through the strongest defences.
The infamous Eben Etzebeth will drive the Springbok pack with his brutish physicality and athletic dynamism. Expect Etzebeth to hammer anything in a red shirt and smash his way through their defence with ball in hand. Alun Wyn Jones and company will have to be at their best to ensure that the 22-year-old does not disrupt their lineout as the man mountain will undoubtedly be influential in the airways.
Head to head: George North v Bryan Habana
When picking a world XV, few would omit George North or Bryan Habana. On Saturday night these two will go head to head in a mouthwatering clash, as the Welsh powerhouse goes up against the speed and intuition of the Toulon winger. The return of Habana will lift the Boks. Their star man limped off to cut short the performance of his life against the All Blacks in October after devastating the world’s best defensive outfit, scoring two tries in the process. North is coming off the back of an impressive Lions tour and while there is no disputing his international prowess, he will know that he will be tested by one of the best on Saturday evening.
The Springboks will prove too powerful for Wales. If South Africa play with anywhere near the intensity they did against the All Blacks five weeks ago, Wales will be unable to live with them. The majority of the Welsh players have not played together since the Six Nations, while the visitors have been testing themselves against the best. Wales have bullied many international sides into submission but they will struggle to cope with the destructive capabilities of this colossal South African side. South Africa by 10.
By Nathan Hyde (@NathanHyde2)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images