Captain Dan Biggar says Wales will be playing without fear when they take on the Springboks in front of a sold-out Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The first of three Tests in SA between the Boks and Wales kicks off on Saturday evening with the visitors having never beaten the world champions in the Republic in 10 previous attempts.
Not only is history against the visitors, but they are coming into the match on the back of a disastrous Six Nations campaign, which ended in a historic loss to minnows Italy in Cardiff.
Speaking ahead of the Test on Thursday, captain Biggar says there is an electric mood in Wales’ camp as they have decided to put the Six Nations behind them and start afresh on Saturday.
“We are excited. I would be lying if I said there weren’t a few nerves as well, but I think that’s a good thing,” said Biggar. “We know the challenge that lies in wait on Saturday. It is up there with the biggest challenge in world rugby, playing the world champions, the number one-ranked team at altitude in their backyard in front of 50 000 supporters. It’s about as tough as it gets.
“What the squad has done on the back of the disappointing end to the Six Nations is we have come together and said that this is a fresh start now. It’s a clean slate. We just want to go out there with a bit of freedom and really express ourselves.
“If we listen to everything that’s been reported, to everything in the media, fans and pundits, we might as well not turn up and just have three weeks of holiday here. It will show a little bit of character about us on Saturday and I’m hoping that shines through.”
The starting lineup that will be tackling the Boks features a good blend between experience and youth, with one debutant in openside flanker Tommy Reffell, who is coming off an excellent season for English Premiership champions Leicester Tigers.
Partnering Biggar in the halfback combination is Kieran Hardy, as the 24-year-old scrumhalf has got an opportunity ahead of the more experienced Tomos Williams.
“There is no fear involved, absolutely no fear. It’s good to be nervous because if you aren’t, you tend to be a little bit lax and you are not quite mentally prepared,” Biggar explained.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve found that when you have young guys coming in, who perhaps haven’t played here or experienced what it’s like to play this team, they have nothing to compare it to, so they have no fear. That’s a really good thing for us. The youngsters are champing at the bit to get stuck into what is a world-class Springbok 23.”
Biggar was in the starting lineup for both Tests when Wales last visited South Africa and is wary of allowing the Springboks to start on the front foot.
“It’s about making sure that we start really well,” he said. “We played here in 2014 and in the first Test in Durban we were out of the game inside the first 25 minutes. We got absolutely blown away and it was very difficult to chase. They are a very difficult team to play against at the best of times, let alone when you have to chase a game. We don’t want to be too focused on the end result because we have to have a phase-to-phase mentality. We are all aware of what lies in wait if we can pull off one of the best Welsh victories in the modern era.”
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