Preview: South Africa v Wales
JUNE INTERNATIONALS: Decorated @rugby365com writer Paul Dobson gives us his view of the first of this month’s Test matches.
What is this match? Officially it is an international match, called by many a Test match. But is it really?
A Test/international match between two countries is normally between teams made up of the best, injury-free players available to each country.
Is this the case here?
Of the 23 players in the Springbok team, 13 are uncapped – in this age of numerous Tests. Wales are better off. They have only two uncapped players, but are still short on experience as 14 of their 23 have fewer than 10 caps.
South Africa have a new coach and a new captain; Wales have an old coach and a new captain.
The old coach, Warren Gatland, a highly experienced coach of long standing and great achievement, said in talking of the match.
“Everything we are doing is geared for the Rugby World Cup in 15 months’ time and the next three matches are a hugely important part of our development,” Gatland said.
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So Gatland sees it as match practice for the World Cup.
New Bok coach Rassie Erasmus, preparing for his very first Test, said: “We are tremendously excited about the prospect of seeing some of our best young players getting the opportunity to play at this level.”
Does that mean it’s a trial match of sorts? Best young players, not best players.
Tests have certainly changed. Once they were the exciting events that stirred a nation’s intense interest.
That it is not being played in either country suggests that the idea of a folk festival no longer exists – and the result may well be academic.
But the fact is that there will be 46 top-class players playing rugby in the all-purpose Robert F Kennedy Stadium in Washington, the first time the stadium has played host to such a Rugby Union match.
South Africa have played Tests in the United States before – in 1981 and 2001; Wales has played in the United States four times – in 1997 (twice), 2005 and 2009.
In each of those six matches, the other team was the USA Eagles.
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Players to Watch
For South Africa: It seems that most interest will be in the new caps. There are seven in the Springbok starting team – wings Travis Ismaiel and Makazole Mapimpi, strong inside centre André Esterhuizen, scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl, flank Albertus Smith, who has played for South Africa at Sevens, lock Jason Jenkins, who has had a chance to play for the Bulls through the injury to Lodewyk de Jager, and prop Retshegofaditswe Nché. Most interest for many will centre on Ivan van Zyl, especially to see the speed and accuracy of his clearing. Presumably, all the bench players will get a chance to play. When Robert du Preez comes on, he joins brothers Dan and Jean-Luc as the fourth set of three Springbok brothers after the Luyts, the Bekkers and the Du Plessises.
For Wales: The Welsh players who may attract most interest are big George North in the centre for the fourth time and rugged loose forward Ross Moriarty, son of rugged Wales player Paul and nephew of rugged Wales player Richard who captained Wales.
Head to Head: The contest between the two perky bantams of the rugby field is always special – the scrumhalves. This time they are both uncapped players – Ivan van Zyl of the Bulls and Tomos Williams of the Cardiff Blues, both of whom played for their counties at Under-20 level, Van Zyl in 2015, Williams in 2013. Much of the fates of their flyhalves and in fact their teams is in their hands. Outside centre George North vs outside centre Jesse Kriel, both experienced Test players, North a former wing and Kriel originally a fullback. The contest between the two front rows is always interesting but here we are dealing with relatively inexperienced players in those positions, Mahlatse Ralepelle apart, though these days he is playing second or even third fiddle at the Sharks to Armand van der Merwe, “the angry warthog”, and Franco Marais. There is the contest between the two flanks – energetic Albertus Smith of South Africa and Ellis Jenkins of Wales. The two played against each other at the 2013 Under-20 World Championship in France. Smith scored two tries that day, but Wales beat South Africa 18-17 to go on to the final. England beat Wales who thus came second, while South Africa beat New Zealand and thus came third.
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Wales first beat South Africa for the first time in 1999 and the next time in 2014, but they have won three of their last four matches.
2017: Wales 24-22, Cardiff
2016: Wales won 27-13, Cardiff
2015: South Africa won 23-19, London
2014: Wales won 12-6, Cardiff
2014: South Africa won 31-30, Nelspruit
2014: South Africa won 38-16, Durban
South Africa and Wales have played 33 times.
From 1906 – 1970 (64 years) they played 7 times.
From 1994 – 2017 (23 years) they played 26 times
South Africa has won 28 times, Wales four times and there was a draw in 1970. Three of Wales’ four wins were in the last four years.
Prediction: It doesn’t matter as much as it usually does, but we think the Springboks will win by 15 points or more.
South Africa: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit (captain), 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nché.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Warrick Gelant.
Wales: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 George North, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Ellis Jenkins (captain), 6 Seb Davies, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Rhys Patchell/Gareth Davies, 23 Hadleigh Parkes.
Date: Saturday, June 2
Venue: Robert F Kennedy Stadium, Washington DC
Kick-off: 17.00 (23.00 SA time; 22.00 UK time; 21.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Heavy rain, possibly with thunder and lightning, a high of 28°C and a low of 18°C. Flooding is possible.
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Alexandre Ruiz (France), Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)
By Paul Dobson