Boks face hardened foes

2014-06-13 11:03
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - For all the pre-tour talk in the UK media of a “weakened” Wales team tackling the Springboks in the first of two Tests at Kings Park on Saturday, the visitors’ line-up has a surprisingly street-wise look about it.

Certainly it ought to leave Heyneke Meyer and company under no illusions about the task facing them after a week in the home camp marred by the rather sudden departure of Frans Steyn at his own insistence.

If anything, it is South Africa who possibly have deeper cause to feel under-strength given that, in addition to the controversial Steyn, the Boks will be without such characters as Eben Etzebeth, Jaque Fourie, Pat Lambie, Adriaan Strauss, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Frans Malherbe, Pierre Spies and Arno Botha.

And if Wales feel aggrieved by the fact that regular captain and highly regarded open-side flank Sam Warburton is absent from their short safari, the Boks are similarly shorn at present of their first-choice skipper and player of the year in 2013, Jean de Villiers.

The starting line-up the Welsh named on Thursday for the first Test contains no fewer than 13 of the side who took to the field for their last Six Nations game against Scotland at the Millennium Stadium only some three months ago on March 15.

On that occasion the Welsh rounded off an erratic campaign - they finished third on the table - on a particularly high note as they thrashed the Scots 51-3, even if the visitors were hampered by the 23rd-minute red card handed out to fullback Stuart Hogg for a dangerous tackle.

The entire Welsh backline that day has been retained en masse for the Durban showdown, including those unusually large specimens at inside centre and scrumhalf, Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips respectively, who have got beneath Bok skins before.

It is in the pack that the only two alterations are apparent, with Aaron Shingler - a former Glamorgan cricketer - picked as fetcher for his seventh cap to fill the Warburton vacancy (he dislocated a shoulder against Scotland), and veteran Adam Jones regaining his spot at tighthead prop.

Jones was on the bench against the Scots, when the Welsh continued their experiment with 22-year-old namesake Rhodri Jones, who was initially schooled as a loosehead but wishes to make a more permanent switch as possible long-term successor to Adam, 11 years his senior.

The other genuinely headline Welsh player who will be absent at Kings Park is fullback and dead-eye goalkicker Leigh Halfpenny who injured a shoulder of his own earlier in the Six Nations against England at Twickenham.

If further confirmation of a gnarly look to the Welsh side was required, the match-day 23 for Saturday will include as many as seven players - five starters - who were participants in the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour of these shores, when South Africa prevailed 2-1 but were quite fortunate to clinch the series in the nail-biting second Test at Loftus before being well beaten in the dead-rubber third.

The five “survivors” of that elite venture five years ago who will run out at the outset are Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, acting captain Alun Wyn-Jones, Phillips and Roberts; Matthew Rees and James Hook will offer options later off the bench.

If anything, some Welsh fans appear miffed that the team looks a tad more “experienced” than it ought to be, and feel there is a need for younger blood ahead of next year’s World Cup.

That said, there are a few “Dads Army” characteristics to the Bok side as well, particularly in the tight five where Gurthro Steenkamp starts for his 50th cap and the average age of the five occupants (ranging from Bismarck du Plessis’s 30 to Victor Matfield’s 37) is his own as of Thursday - 33.

Perhaps the Boks’ best ally on Saturday, of course, is their striking 25-1 supremacy in victories against Wales throughout history and 100 percent record on SA soil itself ...


15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp

Substitutes: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Lwazi Mvovo

15 Liam Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Aaron Shingler, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins

Substitutes: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Paul James, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Ian Evans, 20 Josh Turnbull, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 James Hook, 23 Matthew Morgan

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  rugby

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