PREVIEW: Wales vs South Africa
There are injuries and there are players' owners who will not let them play for their countries because the November window is closed as December hurries in.
Last week both Wales and South Africa performed really well – Wales in going down fighting against the might of New Zealand, South Africa in giving Italy a hiding in the Padua rain. The teams this week are different.
Wales have 12 changes to the team that played New Zealand, South Africa 11 to the team that played the Azzurri. Each team has five changes to the starting XV.
The Wales team of 23 has more experience than the South African team – 563 caps against 388. Maybe that will work to good for South Africa – the enthusiasm and fearlessness of youth.
Caps are not the only criterion. Hadleigh Parkes of New Zealand will be making his debut for Wales. He is 30. Lukhanyo Am will probably make his debut for the Springboks. He is 24, and Warrick Gelant with one cap off the bench is just 22. 26-year-old captain Eben Etzebeth is the most capped Springbok with 66 caps. Alun-Wyn Jones, the Welsh captain, is 32 and has 112 caps.
After their player losses behind the scrum, the Welsh backs may well not have the ascendency that one would have expected before November. And so the scrap amongst the forwards may well be most telling with Wales depending much on the speed of their flanks, Aaron Shingler and Josh Davidi. (Davidi is not an obviously Welsh name but then his father is from Iran.)
Players to Watch:
For Wales: Leigh Halfpenny of Wales, a most courageous of rugby players. He is also creative and resilient and has an excellent boot. Hallam Amos on the wing for Wales has speed, strength and skill. He is in the mould of great Welsh wings. It is a treat to watch Alun-Wyn Jones singing the passionate Welsh anthem, Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers), with greater passion than all the rest. And then watch him play. Taulupe Faletau, Tongan born but Welsh raised, is a player who works harder than most other players, tackling and charging, and does so with a dead-pan face. He is strong.
For South Africa: On the South Africans side you would want to watch Gelant with the clever feet which would be the envy of every Welsh watcher and set them talking about Phil Bennett. In the centre, Francois Venter had a good match against Italy. Can he build on that against Wales? But the Springbok who has most caught the eye this year is hooker Malcolm Marx, a winner of turnovers who is powerful on the gallop. He has not quite replicated the performance he had against New Zealand at Newlands, but the class is there.
Head to Head: Goal-kicker vs goal-kicker – Leigh Halfpenny vs Handré Pollard. Last week in pouring rain Pollard returned to his best, converting all seven tries. He may just be back to form, in which case he and Halfpenny should have a keen duel – both able to kick long and accurately. Halfpenny is consistently one of the best in the world. The kickers' successes may be limited only by the discipline of their opponents. Front row vs front row – Scott Andrews, Kristian Dacey and Rob Evans vs Wilco Louw, Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff. Both sets are relative neophytes, each front row with a total of 39 caps, but this young South African trio may just be the best for quite some time. The Springboks have a strong look about them and have more beef behind them. Loose forwards vs loose forwards – Taulupe Faletau, Josh Davidi and Aaron Shingler vs Dan du Preez, Pieter-Stef du Toit and Siya Kolisi. It could be the classic struggle of speed vs strength. The Welsh may be better at the breakdown, the Springboks in carrying the ball. And the South African trio adds considerably to line-out possession. Taulupe Faletau vs Dan du Preez – both strong men on defence and forceful in carrying the ball. Dan Biggar vs Handré Pollard. Both are flyhalves who can dictate the game, determining how their teams attack and defend. Both are dependent on the forwards in front of them and the scrumhalf's service. The Springbok forwards may well get on top but Aled Davies may have the better – faster and more accurate – service.
Results this Century:
Wales and South Africa first played in Swansea in 1906 when the Springboks won 11-0, a huge victory. Wales won for the first time in 1999. The match this Saturday will be the 33rd. Of the 32 the Springboks have won 28, Wales three and there was a draw in 1970. Only 10 of the matches have been played in South Africa.
2002: South Africa won 19-8 at Newlands
2002: South Africa won 34-19 at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
2004: South Africa won 38-36 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
2004: South Africa won 53-18 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
2005: South Africa won 33-16 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
2007: South Africa won 34-12 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
2008: South Africa won 20-15 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
2008: South Africa won 37-21 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
2008: South Africa won 43-17 at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
2010: South Africa won 29-25 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
2010: South Africa won 34-31 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
2011: South Africa won 17-16 at Westpac Trust, Wellington, New Zealand
2013: South Africa won 24-15 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
2014: South Africa won 31-30 at Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
2014: South Africa won 38-16 at Kings Park Stadium, Durban
2014: Wales won 12-6 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
2015: South Africa won 23-19 at Twickenham, London
2016: Wales won 27-13 at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Prediction: It's the last match of a mediocre year for the Springboks. Surely they will all want to go home to a cheerful welcome followed by a comfortable lay-off for a while, comfortable because they will know that they have done far better than they did last November when the third of their successive defeats was against Wales who rejoiced in their biggest-ever victory over the Springboks. We believe that South Africa will win by about four points in a high-scoring match.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Hallam Amos, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Davidi, 6 Aaron Shingler; 5 Alun-Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin.
South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Warrick Gelant, 10 HHandré Pollard, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Oupa Mohoje, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Lukhanyo Am.
Date: Saturday, December 2
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT; 16.30 South African Time)
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Expected weather conditions: The stadium will be sealed, sides and roof, and so the weather is no playing consideration. But for those going into the stadium, there will be high of 8°C, cooling down to 6°C.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
By Paul Dobson