The Springboks’ success at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday will hinge on Bismarck du Plessis and Marcell Coetzee’s performances at the breakdown, writes JON CARDINELLI in Cardiff.
The French-based Wales players are available for this Test match, and that should make a notable difference for the hosts.
It’s believed the Wales Rugby Union has a deal with the French clubs which permits the use of stars such as Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny, and others, outside the official Test window. This news has come as a shock to the Bok coaching staff. They will now have to adjust their plans accordingly.
Halfpenny is one of the finest goal-kickers on the planet, and could hurt the Boks if the visitors concede penalties within his range. Roberts has inflicted significant damage every time he has started against the South Africans. If he is allowed to play off the front foot this Saturday, the Boks could be in trouble.
Wales are without winger George North, who has been ruled out of the Test due to concussion. It is nevertheless a backline that boasts a good balance between power and skill. And yet, that backline will battle to impose itself unless the Wales pack achieves parity at the set pieces and collisions.
Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has spoken about playing the game at pace, and how South Africa needs quick ball at the rucks if they are going to score tries. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they resort to this type this weekend, and try to pressure Wales into mistakes in this area. As the Boks have proved over the past two seasons, they are a more dangerous side on the counter-attack.
Bismarck du Plessis will start at hooker this Saturday. Meyer said before the tour that he would rotate Du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss and ensure both received two starts each. That said, this is a match where Du Plessis’s mongrel and ball-stealing knack will be needed.
Du Plessis’s ball-carrying strengths were evident when he came off the bench in Padova last week. He will be expected to have a similar impact in Cardiff, but I suspect his prowess at the breakdown will make a greater difference to the flow of the contest, and eventually the outcome.
While Du Plessis is a monster of a man, it’s been his decision-making at the breakdown that's allowed him and his team to win some big moments this season. With the clock winding down in this year’s Rugby Championship clash against Australia in Perth, Du Plessis won a breakdown penalty 5m from his own tryline. Had the Boks cleared their lines, they would have won the match, and would probably have gone on to win the Rugby Championship.
Du Plessis has battled for consistency in the subsequent months, and relevant questions have been asked about his fitness. Du Plessis was overplayed during the Super Rugby tournament, and this has impacted on his level of performance at Test level. The Boks will be hoping he can shrug off the fatigue and produce another inspiring showing in this the final match of the year.
Similarly, the Boks need Marcell Coetzee to fire one last time. Coetzee has been excellent in the absence of first-choice openside flank Francois Louw. However, he has been managed at training in recent weeks due to his extensive workload over the course of the year. He needs to play to his potential this weekend, as the Welsh loose forwards will be up for a scrap.
Wales lost 34-16 to New Zealand last week. Their record against the big southern hemisphere nations now reads one win in 27 matches. They will be desperate for victory this weekend, and that desperation will be patent in the opening exchanges. They will attempt to overpower the Boks and to pile on the points. They will then attempt to do what they haven’t done in six years: finish strongly.
The opening 60 minutes are going to be just as crucial as the final 20 for the South Africans. As Meyer said earlier this week, the Boks don’t want to be chasing the game in the last quarter. The visitors need to keep their composure in the first half, and build a lead. They need Du Plessis and Coetzee to win the breakdown contest, and kickers like Pat Lambie to translate that dominance into territory and points.
Wales have a reputation for falling away in the last 20 minutes. They lack the fitness and the belief to overtake of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa at this point in the game. If the Boks play well in the first half and take their opportunities, and if they maintain that form into the second stanza, they will beat Wales by a comfortable margin.
However, we should expect a predictable albeit less emphatic outcome. Wales will throw everything at the Boks in those first 60 minutes, and yet again, the game will be decided in the final 20. The Boks will show why the southern hemisphere remains a cut above a side like Wales, and the pressure will continue to mount on beleaguered coach Warren Gatland.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Springboks 27, Wales 1, Draw 1
In Wales: Springboks 15, Wales 1, Draw 1
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2014: Boks won 31-30 (Nelspruit)
2014: Boks won 38-16 (Durban)
2013: Boks won 24-15 (Cardiff)
2011: Boks won 17-16 (Wellington)
2010: Boks won 29-25 (Cardiff)
STATS THAT MATTER
18 – The number of turnovers the Boks have made on this tour
2 – The number of turnovers Bismarck du Plessis has made (Rank 4)
293 – The number of tackles the Boks have made on this tour
26 – The number of tackles Marcell Coetzee has made (Rank 2)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Subs: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Aaron Jarvis, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 James King, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Damian de Allende.
Photo: Manus van Dyk/Gallo Images