The Springboks’ imposing centre combination will have a game-shaping role to play in the World Cup quarter-final against Wales on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Winter is coming. If local scaremongers are to be believed, it will be the coldest winter England has seen in five decades.
The temperature in London has already started to drop. Heavy rain is expected this weekend, and both quarter-finals at Twickenham will be affected.
Neither the Boks nor Wales will alter their tactics too much. Both teams play a pragmatic brand of rugby that relies on forward dominance and territorial ascendancy.
We’re unlikely to see either side attempting a sweeping counter-attack from deep within their own half. We should expect Fourie du Preez and Handré Pollard to test the Wales back-three, and the inexperienced Gareth Anscombe in particular, with a series of high bombs. The Boks will look to put the Welsh under pressure and capitalise on any mistakes.
Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar will look to do the same for the Dragons. Biggar was particularly successful with the high-ball tactic against Australia last week. Wales possess a couple of hulking wingers in George North and Alex Cuthbert who will be difficult to top in the aerial battle.
Both teams will require a steady set-piece platform from which to launch their attack as well as the inevitable series of box kicks. The battle at the gainline will be fiercely contested. The forwards will need to fire, as will the likes of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel.
The weather as well as the nature of the play-off contest will limit the pair’s attacking opportunities. They will have to show more grit than guile for the Boks to emerge with the spoils. De Allende and Kriel's defence will be under scrutiny when Jamie Roberts ventures down their respective channels.
With Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams ruled out, Wales coach Warren Gatland has been forced to select the 20-year-old Tyler Morgan at outside centre. Gatland said the twice-capped player has an opportunity this weekend. The Boks should also view that selection as an opportunity. They should look to pressure the young centre and expose any nerves or inexperience as much as they can.
While the Boks have focused on their discipline this week, Wales have focused on their decision-making. The Dragons blew several opportunities to score against Australia last week. Indeed, they have a long record of succumbing to the pressure in the latter stages of big matches against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Not that the Boks have a reason to take anything for granted. They lost to Wales in Cardiff last November. They lost all three of their Rugby Championship Tests this year, a rotten run that included a first-ever defeat to Argentina.
They lost to Japan in the opening match of their World Cup campaign. They haven’t won a Test against a major tier-one nation since they thumped England at Twickenham last November. They will view this quarter-final as an opportunity to prove a point.
Pollard is another who will be under the microscope. While he has improved steadily over the past few months, he doesn’t boast a good record in wet conditions. The Boks need him to be accurate when kicking out of hand and especially for goal this Saturday.
South Africa will look to build scoreboard pressure in the first half, and then finish strongly in the second. Meyer has selected a powerful combination on the bench for this specific purpose.
Jannie du Plessis and Willem Alberts won’t lift the tempo of the game when they enter the fray in the second stanza. What they will do is ensure that the Boks maintain their physical effort for the 80 minutes.
HEAD TO HEAD
Boks 27, Wales 2, Draw 1
DE ALLENDE’S WORLD CUP STATS THAT MATTER
112 – Metres run (Rank 65)
18 – Defenders beaten (Rank 1)
14 – Tackles (Rank 35)
8 – Carries (Rank 22)
4 – Clean breaks (Rank 6)
4 – Missed tackles (Rank 13)
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Wales – 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Tom Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 James Hook.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), JP Doyle (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
Photo: Jan Hendrik Kruger/Getty Images