The Springboks’ management of the high ball as well as the performance of the bench will be decisive in the season finale against Wales on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Welcome to the next instalment of ‘Dance of the Desperates'. Allister Coetzee’s Boks have been regular contestants on this game show for the past two years.
The spoils were shared – twice – when they played the woeful Wallabies earlier this season. They ground out a narrow win against a rudderless France side in Paris – who then went on to draw with Japan the following week. Most recently, the Boks beat an Italy team ranked No 13 in the world.
The 2017 Test finale at the Millennium Stadium promises to be another scrappy affair. The Boks could add a third win to their tour tally and end the season on a relative high. Wales have plenty to play for considering they’re coming off losses to Australia and New Zealand, as well as an unconvincing 13-6 win over Georgia.
A positive result is unlikely to save the jobs of Coetzee and his coaching team, though. A victory would lift Coetzee’s win record to 48%, while a loss would see him finishing his second season at the helm with 44%.
Cardiff is a fantastic rugby city and the local fans never fail to add to the atmosphere on game day. According to local reports, 65,000 tickets had already been sold on Thursday. There will be a big crowd at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, and Wales will be boosted as a result.
The hosts will need all the help they can get. They’ve suffered significant personnel losses due to injuries and club recalls following the closing of the international window.
The selection of Taulupe Faletau – thanks to a release clause in his Bath contract – will give Wales a lift. That said, this is not a particularly strong or experienced side.
Six of the starting forwards have 19 caps or fewer. New Zealand-born centre Hadleigh Parkes is set to make his Test debut while winger Stef Evans and scrumhalf Aled Davies have four caps apiece.
Senior players like skipper Alun Wyn Jones, Faletau, flyhalf Dan Biggar and fullback Leigh Halfpenny will have key roles to play for the hosts. Halfpenny kicked 12 points in the win over the Boks in 2014, and 17 in the victory over Coetzee’s side last November.
Meanwhile, the Boks have their own personnel problems. Coetzee and assistant coach Matt Proudfoot have attempted to play down the losses of Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen, who have returned to their respective clubs in Europe.
Nevertheless, the Boks have lost a total of 96 caps with the pair’s departure, and have been forced to field a less balanced back row without a single loosie who plays to the ball.
Coetzee will field a new loose-forward combination for the fourth time on this tour. Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Dan du Preez – in his first Test start – will be under pressure to match the streetwise Dragons on the deck and at the collisions.
Malcolm Marx’s return should boost the Boks in these areas, though. Expect to see the hooker used as ball-carrier in the wider channels. The visitors need a big game from Marx at the defensive breakdown, even more so in the absence of Vermeulen and Louw.
The Boks should fancy themselves at scrum time. Beast Mtawarira has been ruled out through injury. Steven Kitshoff, however, will give the Boks an excellent scrummaging and ball-carrying option. If Kitshoff gets the better of tighthead Scott Andrews, the Boks must make the most out of the ensuing penalties.
Warrick Gelant has been handed a first Test start, albeit on the wing. It will be interesting to see how that new back-three combination functions under the high ball on Saturday. The roof at the Millennium Stadium will be closed, and yet both teams will be reluctant to play too expansively.
The kicking game will be key. Handré Pollard has improved in this department as the tour has progressed. The jury is still out on Ross Cronjé and Andries Coetzee and whether they have what it takes to be successful tactical kickers at this level.
Wales should be favourites at home. If they win early penalties and Halfpenny converts those opportunities into points, the Boks could find themselves trailing by a significant score by half-time.
It’s been a long season for the Boks. They’re coming off three taxing matches in the northern hemisphere. Fatigue may start to take its toll in the closing stages of the game at the Millennium Stadium.
The relative lack of experience among the reserves may cost the visitors. Coetzee has loaded his bench with fringe players and rookies this week, after not handing these players opportunities earlier in the season.
The Boks could well win this Saturday against a limited and inexperienced Wales side. That said, it would come as no surprise if they lost and ended yet another disappointing season on a low note.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Hallam Amos, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin.
Springboks – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Warrick Gelant, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Oupa Mohoje, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Lukhanyo Am.
Photo: Brendan Moran/Gallo Images
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