The result of Saturday’s Test between the Springboks and Wales will be defining in the context of a 2018 season review, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Last weekend’s win over Scotland has seen the Springboks’ win percentage rise to 54% for the year. That figure could increase to 57% should Rassie Erasmus’ charges claim victory in Cardiff.
However, a defeat would see the Boks finish both the end-of-year tour and 2018 season with a 50% win-loss record. Ultimately, it’s a fine line between what most would regard to be a successful year, or for naysayers to suggest that it’s been nothing more than a mediocre return.
With this in mind, it’s no real surprise that Erasmus has picked his strongest available side for Saturday’s encounter, with a fit-again Eben Etzebeth coming on to the bench in the only change to the match 23.
It’s also a credit to Wales, who have won four out of their last five games against the Boks. They are currently on an eight-match winning streak overall – having claimed a 50-point win over Tonga just last weekend.
In the lead-up to this final clash of the year, Erasmus has also gone on the charm offensive, with the Bok coach suggesting that this would be their most challenging match of the tour against a team that he described as ‘silent assassins’.
Under the guidance of experienced coach Warren Gatland, Wales have become one of the most tactically astute teams in world rugby, and they will look to test the patience of the Boks through a highly-efficient defensive system.
Wales will head into this clash without influential fullback and first-choice goal-kicker Leigh Halfpenny, but they are fortunate to be able to call on the experience of Liam Williams in his absence.
The Boks have already made it abundantly clear that they cannot underestimate Wales on Saturday, but this is also an opportunity for them to finish the year with a serious statement.
This is not a throwaway season-ending fixture, but rather a season-defining encounter that will test both the mental and physical strengths of this Bok side.
Erasmus has also made the point that a victory this weekend would serve as a major morale boost heading into a World Cup year. Indeed, it would mean that the Boks have tasted success against seven out of the top 10 teams in the world rankings (they have not faced Ireland or Fiji this year, but have beaten all others).
Of course, the Boks came very close to defeating Wales in a one-off Test earlier this year, but it was played between two vastly under-strength sides.
So much has changed since then. Just how far have the Boks progressed since 2 June? Well, Saturday’s contest should provide further answers to that defining question.
Wales – 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North 13 Jonathan Davies 12 Hadleigh Parkes 11 Josh Adams 10 Gareth Anscombe 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith.
Subs: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Owen Watkin.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Cheslin Kolbe.
POLL: Who will win Saturday’s Test in Cardiff? #WALvRSA
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) November 20, 2018
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images