Cape Town - While the Springboks were able to celebrate their second anniversary as Rugby World Cup champions this week, the party will become so much more enjoyable if they could get the better of Wales in Cardiff on Saturday night (7.30pm SA time kickoff).
The South Africans have a bad recent record at the Principality Stadium, having last won there in 2013, when Jean de Villiers’ team clinched a 24-15 victory. Since then, it’s been defeats in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018, and it is a bogey that Siya Kolisi’s men want to get rid of.
Of course, there were those memorable wins at the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cups that they could draw confidence from.
The last encounter was the 2019 semi-final in Yokohama, where then-coach Rassie Erasmus – who turned 49 on Friday – created a very specific blueprint to counter Warren Gatland’s outfit.
The Boks kicked the leather off the ball in that game, and maintained their discipline well enough to squeak out a 19-16 victory, with Handre Pollard slotting a late penalty, while Damian de Allende had scored a superb solo try.
Wales have tried to utilise a more attacking approach under new coach Wayne Pivac since, but Kolisi knows that the home team will still look to minimise their mistakes and grind their way to victory.
“There were a couple of things we spoke about, but we do know where we went wrong (previously). We know there were games where we were totally beaten… they outsmarted us in everything,” the Bok skipper said from Cardiff on Friday.
“But now we have everybody here. We always played them at the end of the year, so now we have our full-strength team here. The international players are really good, and they also have internationals playing this weekend.
“It’s going to be a tough game, but we know what we need to bring. We looked at our past games, and we researched a whole lot more this week to get to know each guy, so we are really excited for that.
“Just want to bring it as a team and as individuals… we looked at our past games and saw where we went wrong, and I believe that we’ve worked as hard as we can to give ourselves a fair chance this coming weekend.”
The Bok No 6 will also have his hands full at the breakdowns, with Wales opting for two ‘fetcher’ flanks in Ellis Jenkins and Taine Basham, while the back-three of Damian Willemse, Jesse Kriel and Makazole Mapimpi will have to deal with a number of high balls from Welsh flyhalf Dan Biggar as well.
But while Wales will be missing captain Alun Wyn Jones, hooker Ken Owens and flanks British and Irish Lions tourist Taulupe Faletau and Ross Moriarty, the Boks know that the opposition forwards won’t take a step backwards to the South African pack.
“There are a lot of different teams that we play against where we know they will match you physically for a couple of minutes or whatever, and then they go away. But Wales just play hard for a full 80 minutes,” Kolisi said.
“You’ve got to know that you are going to be in it for 80 minutes, and that’s why the ‘Bomb Squad’ is so important for us.
“They always step up to the challenge, and you saw that in the semi-final – it was exactly the same thing. It was the same thing here as well… They never go away, and they’re very smart. We play a similar kind of game, so it’s all about who loses concentration or who takes the opportunity when they get them.
“Every time we play them, we know physically, we have to be up there for a full 80 minutes. You can’t have a soft moment, and I think that’s what happened in the World Cup. They are a hard and strong team, but so are we. So, it’s going to be about who can maintain the intensity for the full 80 minutes.”
Teams for Cardiff
Springboks: 15 Damian Willemse 14 Jesse Kriel 13 Lukhanyo Am 12 Damian de Allende 11 Makazole Mapimpi 10 Handre Pollard 9 Herschel Jantjies 8 Duane Vermeulen 7 Kwagga Smith 6 Siya Kolisi (captain) 5 Lood de Jager 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Trevor Nyakane 2 Bongi Mbonambi 1 Ox Nche.
Bench: 16 Malcolm Marx 17 Steven Kitshoff 18 Vincent Koch 19 Franco Mostert 20 Jasper Wiese 21 Cobus Reinach 22 Elton Jantjies 23 Frans Steyn.
Wales: 15 Johnny McNicholl 14 Louis Rees-Zammit 13 Jonathan Davies 12 Nick Tompkins 11 Josh Adams 10 Dan Biggar 9 Tomos Williams 8 Aaron Wainwright 7 Taine Basham 6 Ellis Jenkins 5 Adam Beard 4 Will Rowlands 3 Tomas Francis 2 Ryan Elias 1 Rhys Carré.
Bench: 16 Bradley Roberts 17 Wyn Jones 18 WillGriff John 19 Ben Carter 20 Seb Davies 21 Gareth Davies 22 Gareth Anscombe 23 Liam Williams.