What the Welsh newspapers are saying on Friday about the Test against the Springboks.
Most local scribes have highlighted the fact that Wales are missing a host of players due to injuries and club commitments in Europe. Walesonline has made the point by compiling ‘the team Wales couldn’t pick that would probably beat the one that will face South Africa this weekend’. Jonathan Davies, Rhys Priestland, Sam Warburton, and Gethin Jenkins are but a few of the veterans on the list.
It’s already been noted that the game against the Boks – a Test that falls outside of the World Rugby-sanctioned window – will define Wales’ autumn campaign. However, following losses to Australia and New Zealand as well as a scrappy win over Georgia, and given the depleted ranks, a win may be too much to ask for, at least according to one writer.
‘With such an inexperienced side which must be low on confidence, it’s hard to see Wales beating South Africa,’ laments columnist Gwyn Jones in the Western Mail. ‘2017 is a year which has seen Wales stagnate while the other home nations have developed and moved ahead.
‘The glimmer of hope that takes me into 2018 is that Wales appear to be on the right track. The way to win matches is by scoring tries, and we need to get better at doing that.’
Jones has highlighted the scrum as a particular area of concern. The Boks are without veteran loosehead Beast Mtawarira, but will field a strong front row in Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Wilco Louw.
‘South Africa will have done their homework and target the scrum looking for penalties,’ Jones notes. ‘It is up to [Scott] Andrews, as well as those behind him, to give the referee no excuse to blow the whistle.
‘South Africa will be happy to play at pace this weekend. They are rebuilding their team and redefining their style. But that means it could be another opportunity for [flank] Josh Navidi to shine again.’
The same paper has run a lengthy Q&A with Warren Gatland. The Wales coach talks about the pros and cons of having a fourth Test in this autumn campaign.
He suggests that Wales have suffered significant losses in personnel and aren’t exactly in great shape. There are some benefits to staging the game, though.
‘The fourth international generates a lot of money, we have to be aware of that,’ Gatland says. ‘The other thing is we always want the opportunity to play against the best teams in the world. We could always take different options, but I’ve always strongly believed the only way you get better is by playing against the best.’
Gatland has acknowledged that the Boks will also be without a host of players for this game. South Africa have sustained significant losses in the loose trio, with Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw returning to their respective clubs and the likes of Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel, and Jean-Luc du Preez all ruled out with injuries.
Bizarrely, Gatland feels that the ‘quota system’ has compromised the Boks on this tour. On Thursday, coach Allister Coetzee named just three players of colour in his starting XV.
‘They are going through a process at the moment as well in terms of developing some depth,’ Gatland said. ‘They have a lot of constraints in terms of their quota system and have a few players who have gone back to their clubs for this game as well.
‘Probably the weather conditions against Ireland didn’t help them too much [the Boks lost 38-3] but they had a good performance against Italy. We are expecting a hard encounter on Saturday. Hopefully we can convert opportunities against South Africa that we didn’t against New Zealand [Wales lost 33-18 in Cardiff last week].
A piece in the South Wales Echo describes Saturday’s clash as ‘the Dan Biggar Game’. The Wales flyhalf will win his 60th Test cap this weekend, which means he will be eligible for national selection after he joins English club Northampton.
Biggar believes that a physical performance by Wales will lead to yet another win against the Boks in Cardiff. The Dragons won this fixture in 2014 and 2016.
‘If the scoreboard is in South Africa’s favour [on Saturday], we’ll all have to admit it’s been a poor autumn,’ he says.
’Generally, physically they are going to be your toughest opponents. So it’s about us barring up … Sometimes you’ve got to knuckle down a little bit and get your boots dirty and really front up.
‘That’s the main message and [defence coach] Shaun Edwards has been drilling that into us all week. If the Boks get a roll on and you are on the back foot it’s a tough day.
‘Our record against the Springboks in the last few years has been pretty good in terms of results. It’s about taking confidence from that. We tend to get better as campaigns go on, so it’s making sure we peak on Saturday and pick up a win.’