Damian de Allende (Gallo Images)
London — A look at key player matchups in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final between South Africa and Wales on Saturday at Twickenham:
The Wales scrum has been shaky in the tournament, going backwards, and conceding an average 1.5 tightheads per match through the pool stage. Backup loosehead Paul James gave some stability against Australia, but Gethin Jenkins has been preferred again, and his 18th Cup appearance will extend his national record. His combination with Scott Baldwin and Samson Lee survived last November's test against South Africa, which is relying on Sharks clubmates, loosehead Tendai Mtawarira and brilliant hooker Bismarck du Plessis, again. Only the tighthead is changed, with the Springboks feeling confident to pick Frans Malherbe ahead of Jannie du Plessis, one of their 2007 champions. Wales will be doing well not to concede penalties, let alone taking a backward step.
While openside flanker Justin Tipuric was effective against Australia, Wales had no hesitation recalling the more physical Dan Lydiate to face the Springboks. Lydiate, captain Sam Warburton, and No 8 Toby Faletau will start a RWC-record seventh match together, eclipsing England's Hill-Back-Dallaglio combination from 1999 and 2003, and Australia's Smith-Waugh-Lyons in 2003. South Africa will also post a record when Schalk Burger, the No 7 who is more like a 6, sets a national record of 18 Cup appearances. Francois Louw, the No 6 who is more like a 7, and Warburton will give each other problems over breakdown ball, and two of the best No 8s around, Taulupe Faletau and Duane Vermuelen, are set to try and outmuscle each other to influence play.
FOURIE DU PREEZ vs GARETH DAVIES
Expectations were low of both scrumhalves before the tournament, but they have grabbed the spotlight. Du Preez, who started the tournament backing up Ruan Pienaar, has embraced the responsibility of captaincy following injuries to Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield, and has been directing his pack effectively, reading the game expertly, and setting up Bryan Habana superbly. Meanwhile, Davies, thrust into a starting role after Rhys Webb went down, has flourished with four tries, seven breaks, and nine defenders beaten. It's hard to believe he has only eight test caps, half of them in the tournament, and he will do exceptionally well to shade one of the game's greats.
DAMIAN DE ALLENDE vs JAMIE ROBERTS
Old warrior Roberts has missed the company of the injured Jonathan Davies. He's only got over the gainline eight times, and beaten three defenders, but his biggest value in a backline ravaged by injuries has been his presence, calm authority, and willingness to take the ball into a wall. Meanwhile, De Allende, younger and fresher but shorter and lighter, has been lighting it up for South Africa, with four breaks, 18 defenders beaten, and two turnovers won. Evasive, fast, with an educated boot as well, De Allende is one of the few current Springboks who has never beaten Wales.
JP PIETERSEN vs GEORGE NORTH
That record doesn't include Pietersen, who has six wins from six matches against the Welsh. Pietersen had high praise this week for North, describing him as powerful, good under the high ball, Wales' go-to man, and special. But North has yet to provide any highlights, while Pietersen showed his strength and special touch by scoring a hat trick of tries against Samoa, and one against Scotland. North needs to get involved, and Wales is hoping that moving him back to his regular wing spot after forced duty at outside center, will spur him after a quiet tournament so far.