The Springboks kick off their end-of-year tour this weekend when they take on Six Nations champions Wales at Millennium Stadium. The Welsh have not fared too well against their South African counterparts over the years, managing only one solitary victory from the 26 matches between the countries, that win coming some fourteen years ago at the opening of the Millennium Stadium. With the Springboks looking to convincingly bounce back from their regrettable loss to the All Blacks in Johannesburg last month, it looks unlikely that the Welsh are going to be doubling their victories over the two-time World Cup winning opponents this week.
Then again, if there is one thing we have learned from the Welsh in 2013 it is just how resilient Warren Gatland’s charges are. I was one of the many convinced that the only title the Red Dragons were in the running for in this year’s Six Nations was the wooden spoon, especially after their opening round loss against Ireland meant the Welsh had then lost eight consecutive games. They went on to defy all the odds by miraculously managing back-to-back Six Nations titles, so a South African victory this Saturday is certainly not a certainty.
To Win (80mins)
South Africa 5/10
Wales (+3.5) 9/10
South Africa (-4.5) 1/1
The man that captained the British and Irish Lions to a memorable series win over the Wallabies earlier this year, Sam Warburton, has been named to lead out the Red Dragons against the Springboks this Saturday. He is joined by Toby Faletau and Racing Metro’s Dan Lydiate in the loose trio. Mike Phillips, currently involved in a legal battle with French Club Bayonne after being sacked for his overwhelming love of the ale, has been named to start at scrumhalf. He will team up with flyhalf Rhys Priestland, who makes his first start for Wales in almost a year. Bradley Davies and Alun-Wyn Jones team up in the second row of the scrum with Luke Charteris offering cover on the bench.
Some rugby commentators have called this weekend’s starting XV the strongest Springbok run on side of the year. With Heyneke Meyer having recalled stalwarts JP Pietersen and Jaque Fourie into the mix, the Springbok backline has been considerably strengthened in the defence department. Fourie teams up with skipper Jean de Villiers in the midfield for his first Bok appearance since the 2011 World Cup, while JP Pietersen makes his first Test appearance of the year out on the wing. With the surprise selection of Currie Cup winning flyhalf Pat Lambie at fullback, the Springboks will have some firepower on attack if we are lucky enough to be graced with some dry weather for the first meeting between these two sides since a narrow 17-16 Springbok victory in the last World Cup. While the touring side boasts an impressive 447 caps in the backline, the forward pack welcomes a fresh face with Frans Malherbe making his debut this Saturday. Not only has he been tasked to fill in the enormous boots of injured front-row veteran Jannie du Plessis, but he will be going down in the scrum against the legendary Gethin Jenkins. No pressure then.
VERDICT: South Africa (-4.5) 1/1
The Springboks put in some inspiring performances during the Rugby Championship earlier this year, and with Heyneke Meyer’s decision to call back two greatly influential veterans for the opening game of their end-of-year means that they have every intention of repeating the white wash they achieved on last year’s Northern Hemisphere tour. The Welsh are going to be rusty, while the Boks are looking like a well oiled winning machine. The Springboks by 7.
Think we’ve got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this is going to play out.