South Africa and Wales face off on Sunday in what is expected to be the pool decider - although Samoa and Fiji are written off at one’s peril!
The Springboks are a team with a target on their backs, not only because they’re the defending champions but because many people feel they can be beaten.
South Africa coach Peter de Villiers has spoken of how the Springboks will not deviate from their forward-based game plan and it comes as no surprise. You know what you’re going to get from the Boks from the start: strong defence, rampaging forwards and a lot of tactical kicking.
The South Africans know their strengths and while it may not lead to the most scintillating of rugby, it has been successful in the past and in pressure games it is perhaps the ‘safest’ style of rugby.
The loss of lock Bakkies Botha is a big one for the Springboks. Love him or hate him, Botha’s ‘enforcer’ role is key to the Springboks. The Bulls man forms a rock solid partnership with Victor Matfield in the second row, and this will be hard to replicate.
Danie Rossouw is a capable replacement, whether it be at lock or in the loose trio, and brings power and guile to the team. However, many of Rossouw’s best performances have come as a replacement and there are questions regarding whether he can make the same impact in a starting role.
One reserve that is sure to make his mark when he gets his chance, is Bismarck du Plessis. Few argue that incumbent John Smit is currently a better player than his Sharks team-mate, but the leadership value that Smit brings has been deemed more important by De Villiers.
Smit is one of thirteen players in the matchday 22 to face Wales that also did duty in the 2007 World Cup final.
The Springboks certainly don’t lack experience, but many of those who played in Paris four years ago are no longer the force they once were and it remains to be seen if this will cost the South Africans.
Conversely, the Welsh lack experience in key positions.
With Stephen Jones ruled out by a calf injury, coach Warren Gatland faced a poser at fly-half, with James Hook and Rhys Priestland the alternatives. The Kiwi went with Priestland, a man with only four Test appearances (and two starts) to his name, one of which was at full-back.
The pressure is certainly on the 24-year-old and one wonders if he is not on a hiding to nothing. The Springboks will look to target the Scarlets star and there have to be doubts as to whether he will be able to cope.
While Smit has 106 caps to his name, his opposing skipper, Sam Warburton - only 22 years of age - has registered just 17 appearances. There is no doubt that Warburton is a star in the making, but Wales cannot afford the burden of captaincy (which he will carry into his first World Cup on Sunday) to impact his general play.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as the Welsh possess a potent back-line who are more than capable of breaking the Springbok defence, something they managed to do six times in two Tests last year.
Winger George North has been tipped to be one of the stars of the tournament and he’ll be hoping to get out of the blocks first up.
The return to action of Adam Jones will come as a massive boost to the Welsh front row which - despite the absence of Gethin Jenkins - remains a powerful unit. On the whole though, Wales are likely to struggle under the pressure of a big Springbok pack.
Players to watch:
For South Africa: Heinrich Brüssow has made a massive impact since his return to the side and expect the flanker to continue his fine form in New Zealand. Any man who takes a massive boot to the face and carries on to put in a man-of-the-match performance is one to be reckoned with!
For Wales: At just 19, George North has served notice that he will be a star of the future; he’s already halfway there. North made his international debut against the Springboks and immediately took a liking to the South Africans, dotting down for two tries. The Springbok defence can prove rock-solid and Wales will be looking to North to find a way through.
Head-to-head: Key to South Africa’s hopes against Wales and in the competition as a whole will be the boot of Morne Steyn. The fly-half’s accuracy from the kicking tee and out of hand will either ease the pressure on the Springboks or necessitate a much-feared change in tactics. In what could well turn into a battle of the boot in windy conditions, the ability of Rhys Priestland to match his opposite number will be key - a strong performance here could see the Scarlets pivot retain his place in future games.
2010: South Africa won 29-25, Cardiff2010: South Africa won 34-31 in Cardiff
2008: South Africa won 20-15 in Cardiff
2008: South Africa won 37-21 in Pretoria
2008: South Africa won 43-17in Bloemfontein
2007: South Africa won 34-12 in Cardiff
Prediction: South Africa should have what it takes to beat Wales, with an experienced outfit well aware of what is required to win tight games. An early try or two may give Wales a sniff but the Springboks have shown against Warren Gatland’s men in the past that they are more than capable of mounting a fightback. South Africa by seven!
South Africa: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 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 (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Johann Muller, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 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 Danny Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Paul James
Replacements:16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Bradley Davies, 19 Andy Powell, 20 Tavis Knoyle, 21 Scott Williams, 22 Leigh Halfpenny.
Date: Sunday, September 11
Venue: Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 20:30 (8:30 GMT)
Weather: Cold and windy with a chance of rain. Max temperature: 15 °C, minimum temperature: 9 °C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Television match official: Matt Goddard (Australia)
By Julia Harris
enter comment…Have the Boks been given special dispensation, as World Cup Holders, to go off their feet ,with impunity, at the breakdown?
September 11, 2011| Flag Comment
Having see the Scotland, France and England efforts really puts the level of the four nations rugby into perspective. Wales will have to work very hard to avoid a good old fashioned thrashing if they play anything like S,F,E.
September 10, 2011| Flag Comment