World Cup wins are built on momentum and that is exactly what South Africa are building as they start rolling ominously towards the World Cup knockout stages. Healthy wins against Samoa and Scotland have banished the negativity following their opening weekend defeat to Japan.
Heyneke Meyer has learnt his lessons from that day though and has named an extremely strong side for this encounter with the Eagles.
The Springboks have become unrecognisable to the side that started this tournament and the previous Rugby Championship campaign. They were put in a hole on the opening weekend of the World Cup but it looks as though they have dug themselves out of it with the greatest of ease.
They have needed to be brave in both their selection and in the way that they have played since that fateful match in Brighton and they have excelled on both fronts admirably.
JP Pietersen and Jaanie du Plessis are the only two players to miss out this week. Pietersen seems to have a slight injury that Meyer clearly doesn’t feel like taking the chance of aggravating so he makes way for Lwazi Mvovo whilst Du Plessis is replaced by Frans Malherbe, who has impressed off the bench so far.
Lead by Fourie du Preez in the absence of Victor Matfield, South Africa will come out hard for those four tries so that Meyer can start resting his players as early as possible and avoid any damaging injuries.
One story that will develop over this match is that Rudy Paige, the uncapped and controversially-selected scrum half is likely to make an appearance off the bench. Meyer will have to play him in this match as he unlikely to feature, barring injury, in the knockout stages and not playing him would re-affirm the notion in South Africa that Paige was brought to this World Cup to purely meet transformation demands.
One to watch: Fourie du Preez
Du Preez is the cog that has really got this South African wagon rolling. He has rolled back the years to former glories with the way he has varied his game at the breakdown and the dangers that he has posed around the fringes.
His service has been quick and snappy but more importantly he has consistently brought his big runners onto the gain line at pace. This has allowed the type of quick ball that has drawn defenders in and allowed the exciting backline to create chance after chance against Samoa and Scotland.
USA have rung the changes with only three players surviving from their latest defeat to Scotland – a sign that they may be targeting a win against their final Group B opponents, Japan, on Saturday evening, rather than upset the South African apple cart on Wednesday afternoon
The most notable absentees from the American team are Saracens’ Chris Wyles and winger Takudza Ngwenya, the man that took the rugby world by storm in 2007 when out pacing South Africa’s very own Bryan Habana on the outside for a memorable try.
So far in this tournament, USA have been beaten twice but that doesn’t paint a true picture of how they have played. They ran Samoa close and were seven points to the good against Scotland at half time, only to tail off in the second half.
They will be relying heavily on the titanic Samu Manoa to get them moving forward and disrupt the breakdown but he will need support from his deeply inexperienced back row compatriots, John Quill and Danny Barrett.
Five of the Eagles’ starting team will be making their first appearance at this World Cup, including Pretoria-born Niku Kruger. Kruger has qualified through residency but only made his test debut last month against Canada. Playing against Du Preez – who also hails from Pretoria – will be a baptism of fire for Kruger.
One to watch: Samu Manoa
Manoa is regarded as one of the finest number eights in the Northern Hemisphere and will be easily recognised on these shores due to his time spent at Northampton Saints. He can play in the second row as well, which will be invaluable to the USA lineout.
A huge ball carrier in the loose, you wouldn’t want to be caught one on one with Manoa as he will more than likely run straight over the top of you. At the breakdown is where he also adds his sizeable bulk. He will have a lot of work to get through on Wednesday if he is to make an impression on this match, though.
South Africa will want this game won by the break and I expect them to come out firing, looking for the bonus point try as early as possible. USA are no push overs by any means, but there is a great deal of inexperience in their side and we have seen them tire in the latter part of games.
South Africa’s selection is just too strong for them and their experience and class of player will tell as the game wears on. South Africa by 25
By Andy Daniel (@scrum5ive)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images