If Test match rugby was played in press conference rooms and quotes were the equivalent of five-pointers, Wales would have already won the opening encounter against the Springboks. STYLI CHARALAMBOUS previews Sunday’s big match.
In the politically correct world of modern day media relations, it’s not often that opposing teams take the opportunity to talk up their own chances. The usual mantra is one of fighting for the underdog status and hoping to lure the 15 players on the other side of the pitch into complacency. But not Warren Gatland and his team of Cymru lads.
The Welsh management stopped just short of bad mouthing the Boks and in particular their style of play. Gatland, a former Waikato and New Zealand “B” team hooker, has not been afraid to speak his mind ahead of this mouth-watering Pool D encounter. Showing little respect for the current World Champions, Gatland said the Boks “played no rugby” and that the Welsh knew just what to expect from the World Champions.
By effectively calling the Boks predictable and exponents of boring rugby, Gatland can only be hoping to get the player’s backs up before the game that will result in overzealous and foolish behaviour on the pitch. The Springboks have lost many Tests due to dangerous and illegal practices that resulted in sin-binned players. Just think back to last year’s ill-fated Tri-Nations campaign, where the Boks earned three yellow cards in as many matches, and how the disadvantage of playing with a man short for 10 minutes effectively ended any hope of victory.
Gatland’s strategy is as transparent as it is underhanded, going on to call Wayne Barnes, the referee officiating Sunday’s Test match, “the best in the world”. Not too many of his countrymen would agree, after Barnes failed to pick up the blatant forward pass at the last World Cup that ended New Zealand’s tournament.
No doubt, Gatland had Bakkies Botha in mind, who more often than not has been the recipient of those pesky yellow cards. And in a twist of fate, the big man from Pretoria has been ruled out through injury, to be replaced by teammate Danie Roussouw, himself no stranger to the sin-bin.
Mind games aside, the Boks will be preparing for a tough test from their northern hemisphere rivals. In their RWC warm-up campaign Wales exchanged victories with England and then went on to disarm Argentina with relative ease in a 28-13 victory at the Millennium Stadium. The Welsh have proven to be tough opponents to put away for the Boks, running the South Africans close the last three times the two sides met, coming within one score of the Boks each time.
The Boks will know their strength lies in the set-pieces of the scrum and the line-out, where the experienced and formidable pack of forwards will look to lay the platform and secure possession. With Bakkies Botha out of the mix, Victor Matfield will lead the line-out efforts with the incredibly good Heinrich Brüssow the go-to man for turnover possession. The expected wet conditions will also nudge the Boks into playing a tight game with much territorial kicking. Fourie du Preez will need to up his own kicking game since the last outing against the All Blacks, where he only succeeded in handing over possession. Another off day like that on Sunday could see the exciting Welsh backline attacking the Boks defensive line at will, and the Bok management considering the option of Francois Hougaard at scrumhalf.
Where the Boks will be looking to their forwards to set-up the win, the Welsh will be wanting to spread the ball as wide, and as quickly as possible to get their potent backline into the game. George North, Jamie Roberts and veteran Shane Williams have all caused problems for the Bok defence in the past, whether it be in the red jerseys of Wales or the British Lions. North and Roberts are big men able to break over the gain line at pace, while the unpredictable Williams, even at the ripe old age of 34 can still dance his way to the try-line.
It is likely to be a nervous start to the match as both teams’ excitement over the start of the tournament results in early nerves for the players. South Africa, with the more experienced team and likely to field many of the players that started the World Cup final in 2007, should be in a better position to deal with the big occasion. On paper, the Boks look 10-14 points better than Wales, but as we all know, no Test match is ever played on paper. DM
Prediction: Expect a close game, with Welsh finishing strongly as they usually do against the Boks, but only after the game has been lost. Boks by 12 points.
South Africa: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, CJ van der Linde, Johann Muller, Willem Alberts, Francois Hougaard, Butch James
Wales: 15 James Hook, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips; 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Paul James
Replacements: Lloyd Burns, Ryan Bevington, Bradley Davies, Andy Powell, Tavis Knoyle, Scott Williams, Leigh Halfpenny
Date: Sunday, September 11Kick-off: 20.30 (10.30 CAT)
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Weather: Chance of rain, with strong winds. Day time high: 15°C; Evening low: 9°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Television match official: Matt Goddard (Australia)
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