South Africa v Wales preview: Wayne Pivac’s men to stun Springboks and level series in Bloemfontein

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Wales will be determined to draw level in their three-Test series against South Africa when these teams go head-to-head at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Wayne Pivac’s troops came agonisingly close to causing an upset in the series opener at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria last week as they were the dominant side for long periods but, in the end, the home side held their nerve to seal a narrow win.

That result was a significant one for the Springboks as it means they are still unbeaten against Wales in their backyard and they have now won all 11 matches between these nations played in South Africa.

Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber has rung the changes to his matchday squad and is fielding what can best be described as an experimental side for this encounter. In the starting XV, veteran second-row Eben Etzebeth is the sole survivor from the Loftus Versfeld run-on side with Malcolm Marx, Vincent Koch and Damian Willemse the only other Springbok players who were in action in that first Test.

Making so many changes is a massive gamble but Nienaber believes his team will still be competitive and explained that he is trying to build depth ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup in France.

It’s a big risk, however, and legendary Wales and British & Irish Lions scrum-half Sir Gareth Edwards feels the Boks have disrespected their opponents by making so many changes.

Meanwhile, Wales have kept faith with the majority of their matchday squad who did duty in the opening Test.

Alex Cuthbert coming in as a replacement for Josh Adams on the left wing is the only alteration to the starting team and if they can be as competitive as they were in Pretoria, they could break their duck on South African soil.

What happened in the first Test

It was all Wales during the opening exchanges last week and they raced into an 18-3 half-time lead courtesy of a brace of tries from Louis Rees-Zammit and a conversion, penalty and a well-taken drop-goal from captain Dan Biggar. For the Boks, Elton Jantjies added a penalty during that period but he was the root cause of his team’s woes and was replaced at the interval. The home side were more competitive in the second half and struck back with tries from Bongi Mbonambi and Marx with Willemse converting one of those and also succeeding with a penalty which meant Wales were leading 18-15 by the 51st minute, before Biggar kicked two more penalties to give his side a nine-point lead by the final quarter. There was still plenty of drama left and another five-pointer from Cheslin Kolbe, which Willemse converted, and a penalty try gave the Boks a 29-24 lead. Despite being under the cosh during the closing stages – and with two players in the sin bin – Wales drew level when Dewi Lake crossed for a try in the 77th minute but Biggar failed to add the extras. That proved costly as Willemse soon stepped up to clinch a 32-29 triumph in injury time with a well-taken penalty.

What they said

Despite coming up short in the first Test in Pretoria, there are plenty of positives which Wales gained from the series opener and their lock, Will Rowlands, is looking forward to having another crack at the Boks.

“There is a belief amongst us that we can still go on to win the series. We were disappointed after the first Test, but now we’re excited at what we can do this weekend,” he said.

“I don’t really know what to expect in the second Test, but hopefully it is just more of the same. It really was a fantastic atmosphere in Pretoria and I felt very lucky to be a part of it.

“I hope it is more of the same because playing in those big rugby cauldrons filled with passionate fans is ultimately what you want to be doing. I am really enjoying my rugby at the moment and long may that continue.

“It would be nice to win the first game on SA soil and make a bit of history, but from my point of view whenever you play a Test match you take it as it comes. You just want to go out there and win.

“You don’t think about the history as the game is going on. We want to get a result because we are playing Test rugby and we are here to win.”

Meanwhile, the Boks’ France-based front-row Trevor Nyakane expects a difficult challenge from the visitors.

“I’m very excited to be back here in Bloemfontein, it has been some time,” he said.

“And as a team we are looking forward to it. Wales are a team that fight fire with fire, and we are aware of that.

“We know it is going to be tough, but just as they are going to do what they do best, we will try to do the same from our side.”

Players to watch

The home side’s supporters will be keeping a close eye on exciting number eight Evan Roos, who is set take to the field in one of the most highly anticipated international debuts in recent years. The 22-year-old stole the show for the Stormers during their triumphant United Rugby Championship (URC) campaign as he made a big impact with ball in hand. Roos’ ability to get over the advantage line and break tackles was a big part of the Stormers’ success and it will be interesting to see if he can replicate that form at Test level where the margins for error are much tighter.

Starting in the back-row alongside Roos is an experienced campaigner in Marcell Coetzee, who is set to play his first Test for the Boks since injuring himself in a Rugby World Cup warm-up international against Argentina in 2019. Coetzee, who can play in all three back-row positions, lines up on the openside flank in this encounter and will be eager to transfer his excellent URC form for the Bulls to the international arena. The 31-year-old will not lack motivation to do well as his call-up to the Bok squad for the Wales series came after he was overlooked several times in 2021 despite shining for the Bulls.

Another player who will be keen to impress for the home side is utility back Kurt-Lee Arendse, who will also make his international debut after some excellent performances for the Bulls at URC level. The former Springbok Sevens star is blessed with plenty of pace and can step off both feet which makes him a genuine attacking threat. He is particularly dangerous from broken play and is sure to test the Welsh defence if he finds himself in space out wide.

Meanwhile, Wales have several experienced campaigners in their set-up and in Taulupe Faletau they possess a classy number eight who has delivered excellent performances for his country consistently for over a decade. The 31-year-old was at the forefront of Wales’ onslaught as a ball carrier in the first Test and finished that encounter with 37 metres gained from 11 runs which included two defenders beaten. He also did the business as a defender and completed 11 tackles. A similar effort will be appreciated by Welsh supporters.

Another player who took the fight to the Boks at Loftus is Will Rowlands, who did his title as Wales’ current player of the year justice with an excellent all-round performance which included 43 metres made with ball in hand and a match-high 16 hits executed on defence. Rowlands will be determined to hit the ground running in those departments on Saturday while also making his presence felt at the lineouts.

After being dropped for Wales’ Six Nations encounter against England earlier this year, there was plenty of pressure on Wales’ young flyer Louis Rees-Zammit but he has bounced back from that setback and is doing well again in the run-on side. The 21-year-old was in fine form at Loftus Versfeld as he crossed for two tries and finished that Test with 75 attacking metres which included four runs, two clean breaks and one defender beaten. That means he will be closely marked by the Bok defenders in Bloemfontein but he will be difficult to stop once he builds up a head of steam.

Main head-to-head

After arguably his worst performance at international level, Jantjies has been dropped which means first choice fly-half Handre Pollard returns to the world champions’ run-on side and his duel with Wales’ Dan Biggar should be one of this encounter’s highlights. Both players’ game management skills are of a high standard and their duel could prove decisive in the bigger scheme of things.

Pollard and Biggar both possess excellent skill-sets and have the ability to bring out the best in those around them with their superb playmaking ability, while also keeping the scoreboard ticking with accurate goal-kicking. Both will be captaining their respective sides which brings another dimension into the equation for this battle. They will be expected to lead from the front while their decision making will also be in the spotlight as it could decide this game’s end result.

Prediction

Although Nienaber has said this is not a Springbok B side, there have been changes aplenty and it will be interesting to see if they can continue in a similar vein as their second-half performance in Pretoria against a Wales outfit who have kept changes to a minimum. Although the Boks will be competitive and push their opponents all the way, Wales will win by five points.

Previous results

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
2015: South Africa won 23-19 in London (RWC)

The teams

South Africa: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Aphelele Fassi, 10 Handre Pollard (c), 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Thomas du Toit
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Ruan Nortje, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Deon Fourie, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Damian Willemse

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 George North, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Alex Cuthbert, 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 Josh Adams

Date: Saturday, July 9
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 17:05 local (16:05 BST, 15:05 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley (England), Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Brett Cronan (Australia)

READ MORE: Dan Biggar: Springboks haven’t disrespected Wales with team selection

 

The article South Africa v Wales preview: Wayne Pivac’s men to stun Springboks and level series in Bloemfontein appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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