Wales have beaten the Springboks once in 26 Tests. The bookies reckon the trend won't change at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, writes GARY LEMKE.
I was on secondment to a newspaper office in London in 1988 when I travelled up to Porthcawl to cover the British Amateur golf championship, in which a South African made the final – it wasn't Ernie Els, mind you. The coastal town is some 40km west of Cardiff and I found myself in a pub where the locals were talking rugby, not golf.
Over a few pints, one guy was lamenting the fact the Springboks were in isolation and he couldn't wait for hostilities to be resumed between the two countries. 'You Springboks have it 'ere [and he jabbed his big index finger against my forehead] … you have it 'ere [and he prodded with the same finger at my heart] and you have it 'ere …' and with a big Welsh hand he grabbed my balls. He'd made his point. The Springboks were and always will be a big part of Wales' proud rugby tradition and there was great respect and admiration for them.
History shows that the two countries have played 26 times and the Springboks have won 24 of those, with one draw – 6-6 in 1970 – and Wales have won once, at the opening of the new Millennium Stadium in 1999.
Significantly, since the Boks returned from isolation, the countries have met 20 times. And the Boks have bossed them, winning 19 of those. Some of them have been walks in the park – 96-13 and 53-18 at Loftus, 43-17 in Bloemfontein, 40-11 at Ellis Park, but in Cardiff the picture is different. These have been the points spreads in the games in Cardiff since returning from isolation (from oldest to most recent): 8, 17, 10 (to Wales), 10, 2, 17, 22, 5, 3 and 4 and the last time the teams met, in the 2011 World Cup, the Boks snuck home by one point in Wellington.
In pricing up the match on the even-money handicap (ie, whatever stake you place, if you 'win' you will double your money) the online bookies have given Wales a 3-0 start. That's more or less (3.25 points) the average margin between the two teams based on their last four meetings dating back to November 2008.
My question in assessing this three-point spread for the weekend is whether or not the Boks are a better side than they were in 2008-2011 and whether Wales are. My answer is that both are stronger versions but in looking at the squads and the benches, I can't see Wales keeping the Boks to within three points – or winning the game. Of course, should the weather be foul and the roof remains open – as Heyneke Meyer has reportedly asked for it to be – then Wales' chances of keeping it closer will improve, but the Boks look too physical and too strong all-round. I think they'll win by more than three and will therefore be putting down a decent-sized wager.
The Boks, to me, are the clear second-best side in the world and there is a bit of a gap between them and the rest as we get set to sign off on 2013. Having said that, the Millennium Stadium atmosphere will be more than the seven points regularly trotted out as being 'home advantage'. I'd put that advantage closer to 10 points. I can see the Boks winning around 26-19.
Having said that, Wales will be up for one of the biggest challenges they they can experience as a rugby-loving nation. This is no end-of-year friendly international for the Six Nations champions. Just ask that guy with the outsize fingers and hands in Porthcawl what the Boks mean in that part of the world.
By the way, the South African who reached that 1988 British Amateur golf final was Ben Fouchee. He lost.
HOW THE BOOKIES HAVE SET THE MARKETS THIS WEEKEND
Italy vs Australia: Australia to win by 11
England vs Argentina: England to win by 14
Scotland vs Japan: Scotland to win by 17
Wales vs South Africa: South Africa to win by 3
Ireland vs Samoa: Ireland to win by 10
France vs New Zealand: New Zealand to win by 10
Photo: Peter Parks/AFP Photo
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