International Rugby: South Africa vs Wales preview.

Wales take on the Springboks in the first of a two test series in Durban today looking for a first ever win on South African soil. Shorn of stars such as- Full-back Leigh Halfpenny, skipper Sam Warburton, and flanker Justin Tipuric, and hooker Richard Hibberd, Warren Gatland’s men are really up against it.

The Springboks who warmed up for today’s match with a 38-20 win over a Rest of the World XV last weekend, will be looking to put down a marker for the upcoming Rugby Championship, in which they finished as runners-up last year.

With a juggernaut pack including returning heavyweights Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield and an exciting backline brimming with pace and creativity with an excellent bench, Heyneke Meyer’s men rightly go into today’s clash as favourites. The loss of skipper Jean De Villiers the only negative for a bok 15 boasting 707 caps in total.

Wales will be buoyed by an impressive 34-12 win over Eastern Province Kings on Tuesday as they seek to beat the ‘bokke’ for the first time since 1999. Gatland’s men can also take some heart from the fact that his side has run South Africa close in their last encounters, including an agonizing 17-16 defeat to them in Wellington in 2011.

Another factor which could help the Welsh is some Bok rustiness. Last week’s match in Cape Town was their first as an unit for 6 months, while they have only been back in camp for a short while. Now is probably the ideal time to take on the two-time world champions. And their underdog status and their poor record against the men in green and gold may work in their favour: with most people expecting them to lose, they could play with greater freedom.

But despite these factors, a pretty experienced pack, a world class centre partnership of Roberts and Davies, and strike runners such as George North (if fit) and Alex Cuthbert, the home team still have the edge. With an extremley powerful front five led by the abrasive Bismarck Du Plessis and  big ball carrying backrowers such as Alberts and Vermuelen complemented by turnover king Francois Louw at 7, the boks have the edge up front.

I believe the welsh front three of Jenkins, Owen and Jones may struggle against their counterparts at scrum time. The fantastic Adam Jones, who will make his 100th test appearance today, has struggled this season under the new scrummaging rules while Gethin Jenkins has fallen foul of officialdom at scrum time on more than one occasion recently. Guthro Steenkamp, Bismarck Du Plessis and Janie Du Plessis along with massive duo of Botha and Matfield will be looking to apply plenty of heat on their opponents.

The lineout will be a tightly contested area with both No2’s usually on the button and both second row pairings very good at winning their own ball. Matfield’s ability to pinch opposition ball perhaps giving his side a slight edge there.

With both Warburton and Tipuric out, I feel that the home side will be on top in this area. Aaron Shingler is a good player but lacks Warbuton’s jackal like abilities at the breakdown where Louw’s greater strength and foraging skills will see him come out on top.

With ball carriers such as- Bismarck Du Plessis, Duane Vermuelen, Willem Alberts, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, South Africa also have an edge in this department on the whole over Wales’ main ball carrying options in Taulupe Faletau, Ken Owens and Alun Wyn Jones.

Where Wales do have the edge is in midfield where Lions winners Roberts and Davies are an extremely formidable pair, with bags of experience. With Meyer trying a new combination of J P Pietersen and Jan Serfontein in the middle, If Wales can get some decent front foot ball, Roberts and Davies can cause the bok midfield lots of problems.

The battle between both back 3’s should be exciting as well with both back 3’s lethal with ball in hand. Wales will look to target debutant Cornal Hendricks at 14 through North if he’s fit, while expect Dan Biggar to pepper Full-back Willie Le Roux with plenty of high balls. Fanatastic with ball in hand, Le Roux has shown some vulnerability under the high ball.

But I think that the home side’s greater power up front will tell, wearing the Welsh eight down and eventually giving their exciting backs a chance to shine.

South Africa by 10.

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