Boks too strong for weakened Wales

The Springboks can achieve an emphatic win against Wales in their World Cup quarter-final, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

South Africa, switched on and playing with intelligence, and with a style familiar to the natural psyche of the players, will be 10 points too strong for a Welsh team robbed – through injury – of too many world-class players.

Gareth Anscombe, for one, is no Leigh Halfpenny at fullback and George North, on the wing, is a far more imposing attacking threat than the North who, because of Wales’s limited midfield options, has been forced to play in a more restrictive midfield environment.

Wales won’t be easy but they are an easier proposition for the Boks than the Wallabies, especially now that the Australians have a set piece the equal of any team at the competition, South Africa included.

Wales beat the Springboks 12-6 the last time the two met, but no foreign-based Boks were available for what was only the second South Africa defeat against Wales in the game’s history.

The Welshmen, in the Warren Gatland era, have rallied hard against the Boks. They should have won their pool match-up in Wellington in the 2011 World Cup and in Nelspruit they imploded after leading by 17 points.

Wales, in terms of all-round pedigree, are a weaker side than South Africa. But – and there’s always a but – Heyneke Meyer’s Boks will have to play as well as they can to beat Wales.

And here’s another but: the question is just how well can this Bok team play against quality opposition.

Wales will be the toughest opponents the Boks have faced at the World Cup. The All Blacks have been condemned for not putting away supposedly weak second-tier opposition by 100 points, but they did deal emphatically with the Argentina challenge in the final 20 minutes of their tournament opener. And the Pumas have been heralded as one of the form teams at the competition.

South Africa, on paper, have played teams with decent World Cup pedigree, but not with any great 2015 World Cup form.

The Boks lost to Japan, beat a Samoan team that didn’t win a game at this World Cup and then were done a disservice by Scotland and the United States, who opted to rest their frontline players for a game their respective coaching staff felt was never going to be a winning option.

There is confidence among the Boks again after the historical low of losing to Japan. The swagger is there in the walk, the talk has tempo and Meyer is even smiling.

All indications are Meyer will continue as Bok coach for the next four years, simply because the Boks have made the quarter-finals.

Wales, losers against Australia for the 11th successive time, showed enough in the defeat for the Boks to expect a confrontation and contest in the gainline collisions. But their set piece isn’t stronger than South Africa’s and their attack was woeful.

So much was made of Australia’s heroic defence when reduced to 13 players and starved of the ball for an eight-minute period on their goalline. Too little has been made of the impotency of the Welsh attack and decision-making in this period.

Wales offer little by way of individual or team genius but they have passion and zest by the tons. Their players, in the matches against England and Australia, know what it is like to be in the trenches. They are battle hardened because England, despite all the jokes, and Australia are not Japan, Samoa and second-string USA and Scotland.

Wales have an edge in what they’ve encountered; the Boks are still an unknown because of the lack of pedigree in what they’ve swatted aside since that black opening day in Brighton.

The Boks’ World Cup turnaround will only have substance when they deal with Wales. I say, when, because I don’t believe it is an if.

The semi-finals could shape as an occasion exclusive to the southern hemisphere four, but first South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina have a bit more to do than Australia, who get the easiest of the play-off draw in Scotland.

New Zealand’s 2011 World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry has been particularly scathing of the Boks, calling them too old and too predictable. He has been consistent in his publicly stated belief the Boks are not one of the contenders.

Henry puts the All Blacks, Wallabies and Argentina ahead of the Boks. I don’t agree with him, although this year’s Rugby Championship finish, from one to four, supports Henry.

He also puts Wales as a good bet to beat South Africa. So too Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.

I hope a few more influential voices dismiss the Boks because South African players find that something extra when the world writes them off. It’s when the world favours them that they are more vulnerable.

I believe the Boks can and will be emphatic in their manner of victory against Wales. Anything less, and Henry may end up looking like a rugby Nostradamus in being so bullish that the Boks are there simply to make up the play-off numbers.

Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images