This coming Saturday Wales will play their fourth and final game of this Autumn Series, this time against South Africa. After defeats against Australia and New Zealand, can Wales end the campaign with a victory against one of the Southern Hemisphere Heavyweights?
The Springboks are not the formidable force that they once were. They are very inconsistent. You have had heavy defeats in recent months against New Zealand, where they were embarrassed with a 57-0 thrashing, also only a few weeks back a heavy defeat in Dublin against Ireland. However, after that heavy defeat to New Zealand in The Rugby Championship, less than a month later at home, they suffered a one-point loss to the same side, as well as during that same Championship, beating Australia and Argentina. In this Autumn Series, after starting with a heavy defeat to Ireland, they beat France by a point and the French seem in turmoil at the moment and achieved a good victory in Italy. So what team will turn up on Saturday, and on the world stage, where does South Africa stand as a rugby nation?
Wales go into this game missing a few of their English based players, due to the fact this international is being played out of the international window. Wales will be missing Rhys Priestland, Tomas Francis and Owen Williams, but will have Taulupe Faletau available, which is a real boost for Wales. Bath has agreed to his release which is believed was agreed when he signed a contract with them. Will be interesting to see what sanctions are set against the West Country team.
Last Saturday, Wales were defeated by New Zealand in a match I personally thought New Zealand never needed to get out of third gear. Wales had the majority of possession and territory, but bar a few times, I felt the New Zealand defence was never overstressed. They were happy for Wales to have the ball, defend, and wait for the opportunity and then make the most of that opportunity, which they did scoring five tries. Wales are still adapting to this wider expansive game, but I just feel they are now going too wide too often. Need some variance in our game, runners going on shorter angles, have some decoy runners, attracting defenders, shorter more incisive passing, taking the ball up to the line, taking the tackle, recycling and then seeing what opportunities there are. At the moment, Dan Biggar is throwing a pass behind a line of passive Welsh players to our 12 or a pass to Rob Evans, who then puts it back to the 12, which last week was Owen Williams and by this point, we are around 6 yards behind the gain line, defences are snuffing this out by having plenty of time to get off the line, and stop the move and the opposition is then very much on the front foot. As I said we are still adapting, so will take time, I just worry as I mentioned before the Australia game, do we have the skillsets and players to play this game? A question still to be answered.
South Africa will be missing Francois Louw, the tough, abrasive flanker, who plays for Bath. This is a loss for them as he is very destructive at the breakdown and a fine player in other facets of the game. His replacement is likely to be Siya Kolisi, another good player but not as strong as Louw. Another player who may not be available is hooker Malcolm Marx, who suffered a should injury in the victory against France. He did not play last weekend, and if does not play Saturday, this again is a big loss to the team. Marx is an outstanding player, a real modern type hooker, carries well, is like another flanker at rucks and also is strong in the set piece. His performance for South Africa against New Zealand in their narrow home defeat was world class. Even New Zealand journalists were purring about his performance and in many players rating pieces after the game, Marx scored 10/10.
So what changes will Warren Gatland make for Saturday? Well some will be forced due to injuries and the English based players not being available, so will be a new face at 12, which is likely to be now available for Wales, Hadleigh Parkes, who I am looking forward to seeing what his skill set brings to Wales in that important position, I think he will be more confrontational and direct, so interesting to see the dynamics in the style that Wales wish to play. Rhys Webb is doubtful due to his head injury on Saturday, so if not available then Gareth Davies will start and Jake Ball who sadly dislocated his shoulder Saturday, is likely to be replaced by Cory Hill. The Dragons lock will have a battle on his hands with the South African locks Lood De Jager and Eben Etzebeth, who both are looking to be getting back to the form of a couple of seasons ago, so Hill and Alun Wyn Jones have a big challenge. In the back row, with Justin Tipuric, injured then certainly Josh Navidi will start again at 7, after his excellent performance last weekend. If Tipuric was fit would have been interesting to see what Gatland did with the back row as cannot see how Navidi after last weekend could miss out, however, that decision is no longer required.
I am looking forward to Saturday and seeing if Wales can finish with a win, and also how South Africa play, are they ready to go home and not totally focused? Wales need to start quick and put doubts in The Springboks minds early.
Anyhow, for what it is worth, this would be my selection for Saturday:
15/ Rhys Patchell
14/ Leigh Halfpenny
13/ Owen Watkin
12/ Hadleigh Parkes
11/ Hallam Amos
10/ Dan Biggar
9/ Rhys Webb if not fit, Gareth Davies
1/ Rob Evans
2/ Ken Owens
3/ Leon Brown
4/ Seb Davies
5/ Alun Wyn Jones
6/ Dan Lydiate
7/ Josh Navidi
8/ Taulupe Faletau
S Evans, S Williams, G Davies or A Davies, W Jones, E Dee, S Andrews, C Hill, A Shingler
Wales 27 South Africa 24
Feature Picture Credit – http://www.hospitalitycentre.co.uk