JON CARDINELLI analyses the key match-ups and picks the winner of the Test in Cardiff.
The series win aside, what did the British & Irish Lions achieve in Australia this past June? Did they close the gap between the two hemispheres in the space of three weeks, or did they simply beat one of the worst Wallabies teams of the past decade?
The latter is more likely. Indeed, the subsequent Rugby Championship has put that Lions series in perspective.
When you consider how far this Wallabies side has fallen, how easily they were physically dismantled by the All Blacks and Springboks, and so nearly by Argentina, you can understand how the Lions were able to break their losing streak.
There needed to be perspective after that series, and there also needs to be perspective ahead of the coming block of games in the northern hemisphere.
Many players may have drawn confidence from the Lions' victory, but the reality is teams like Wales still have a long way to go before they can threaten the south's supremacy.
It is not arrogance to expect a Bok win in Cardiff this Saturday. The South Africans threw everything at New Zealand in the Rugby Championship, and ultimately the All Blacks proved exactly why they are the No 1 side on the planet. That is the standard to which every other nation must aspire.
The Boks are not the best in the world, but they are operating at another level of competency compared to others in the chasing pack. If there's a gap between No 1 and 2 in the world rankings, there's an even bigger gap between No 2 and the rest of the would-be contenders.
WHEN HOPE IS NOT ENOUGH
There will be 74,000 Welsh hopefuls crammed into the majestic Millennium Stadium this Saturday. That unique atmosphere, which should be amplified by the roof being closed, will galvanise the hosts, as it has done on so many previous occasions. Unfortunately, it won't be enough to get the Welsh over the line.
Heyneke Meyer has said that he wants his side to acclimatise to conditions that will be similar to those experienced at the 2015 World Cup. He will be disappointed that the roof is closed for this fixture and that the Boks are denied that opportunity. However, if one is to look at this game as just a one-off, a closed roof and a dry pitch will suit the South Africans more than Welsh.
Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said on Thursday that his side will need to play at the same pace and intensity as their southern hemisphere opponents. At the same time, Wales will also have to live with the Boks' physicality.
They have managed to do so before, but on this occasion they're up against a Bok side that has hit some form. The Boks will also be boosted by the return of several experienced players. Jaque Fourie will plug the midfield hole in the No 13 channel, and JP Pietersen will bring more versatility to the right wing position than Willie le Roux.
THE WINNING FORMULA
The Boks boast the best halfback combination in the world as far as tactical kicking is concerned. Pat Lambie gives the Boks another solid tactical-kicking option at the back, and he will also have a role to play on attack.
The belief in the Bok side has been the difference in recent games that have gone to the wire. The mental steel that runs through this team will once again be significant as far as taking control of Saturday's contest if concerned, although I don't think the Boks will allow the Welsh to get too close on the scoreboard.
The Boks have the pack to win the gainline battle, and an openside that should be more than equal to Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton. Francois Louw was one of the standout performers in the Rugby Championship, and as a resident at English club Bath, he is at home in northern hemisphere conditions and attuned to the demands of the region's referees.
Fourie du Preez and Morrné Steyn will convert the forward dominance into territory, and Steyn will take that further in translating field position into scoreboard supemacy.
Wales have the stars in Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Jonathan Davies to trouble South Africa in a less-structured game. If the Boks can maintain control and force Wales to take them on directly, then the tourists will win comfortably. And if they don't succeed in dictating the flow of play, well, history tells us the Boks will at the very least finish on the right side of the result.
Meyer's men will pick up an important victory this Saturday, while Gatland's Wales will add yet another loss to their abject record against southern hemisphere opponents.
Like death and taxes, the lack of Welsh conviction in a Dragons vs Boks contest is something that doesn't ever change.
Springboks – 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 JJ Engelbrecht, 23 Willie le Roux.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 James Hook, 23 Ashley Beck.
Photo: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP Photo
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