The World Cup quarter-finals kick-off this weekend with Wales taking on South Africa at Twickenham. After negotiating the pool of death with a horrendous injury list, Wales’ reward is a date with a Springbok side that have been playing good enough rugby to erase the shock Japan loss in the first round.
Wales have again been forced to ring the changes due to the sorry state of their ever-growing injury list. Inexperience has had to be called upon and after their bruising final group encounter against Australia, how much do they have left in the tank?
Dan Lydiate comes back into the team to bulk up the back row and slow down the juggernaut unit of the Springboks. The breakdown will be a key area on Saturday and this is where Wales will need to be top of their game if they are to upset the odds and get themselves on the front foot.
Twice-capped Tyler Morgan comes in at outside centre to partner Jamie Roberts, meaning George North assumes his more regular post on the wing. Gareth Anscombe retains his position at full back and this may be an area that South Africa will target. Anscombe looked fallible under the high ball last weekend and despite Bryan Habana standing an inch short of six foot, he poses a substantial aerial threat along with JP PIetersen. He will need protection from his behemoth wingers North and Alex Cuthbert when the ball goes skywards.
Dan Biggar and Gareth Davies’ blossoming relationship will never be more important than this weekend and a change of style may need to be considered. Davies went himself too many times against the Australians, especially when the Wallabies were down to thirteen men and there was more space out wide. If he does that this weekend he will get swallowed up by an aggressive Springbok fringe defence.
Biggar also needs to be more patient with ball in hand and use his strike runners to drag in the South African defence before picking the right time to go wide.
One to watch: Sam Warburton
Warburton has a huge job on his hands this weekend when he takes on a breakdown as slick as the Springboks’. He is a world class operator though, and expect him to be the top tackler along with his partner Lydiate. The Cardiff man will be aiming to get his hands over the ball and disrupt any chance of the dangerous South African backs causing significant damage.
South Africa arrive at Twickenham after an impressive 64-0 victory against the USA in their final group game. Although it wasn’t the strongest American team available, you can only play what is put in front of you.
The cohesion in their team is back to its best with the senior players really stepping up to the mark in recent matches. Heyneke Meyer has only made the one change to his starting line-up as he brings back JP Pietersen in place of Lwazi Mvovo, who drops out of the match day 23 completely.
The Springboks will be hoping to prey on the inexperience in certain areas of the Welsh outfit. Jesse Kriel against Tyler Morgan will be an interesting matchup as both are still cutting their teeth at international level. Kriel burst onto the scene with a bang but has faded in this World Cup a touch, so Gatland may not be as fearful of this head to head as he might have been.
Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager’s partnership in the second row has been one of the revelations of this tournament and they offer more than just what it says on their second row job description. They play like back rows in the loose and they will be aiming to add necessary bulk to the breakdown in an attempt to blitz Warburton and co. out of the game.
One to watch: Damian de Allende
De Allende’s match up with Jamie Roberts will see some of the biggest collisions of this World Cup so far. The Springbok is very much in the same mould as Roberts and the young pretender will be aiming to win the battle of the gain line against. So far, De Allende has shown that the retiring Jean de Villiers will not be missed for long as his range of skills matches, if not exceeds, his predecessor and with more settling-in time he could become a world force. There is no better benchmark than Jamie Roberts and this will be a real test for the youngster.
Wales have heart, world class talent and one of the best fly halvess in world rugby at the moment in Dan Biggar, but this means nothing if you cannot get your hands on the ball in the first place. South Africa will look to dominate the breakdown, and the experience and big game temperament of Fourie de Preez at scrum half will be vital to their success.
Wales have also been through the wars to get this far and I think that this may begin to tell after 60 minutes. The fact that they didn’t manage a score against 13 men from the Southern Hemisphere last weekend may also be weighing heavily in the back of their minds.
This could be a game too far for the Welsh and the Springboks will just have a little too much. South Africa by 8
By Andy Daniel (@scrum5ive)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images