Wales have won just one match in 22 against South Africa. This match at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday could double their victories.
Sound silly? Paul Dobson writes for Rugby365.com.
It’s not. First of all Wakes has a strong, well-balanced team – capable of doing the tough stuff up front and striking with lightning speed out wide.
Secondly South Africa seem so confident of winning. South African rugby has performed best when it has its back to the world. Write the Springboks off and they perform. But this time there is an air of confidence bordering on arrogance – dismissing Wales as really not much cop, experimenting with John Smit at tighthead and Ruan Pienaar at flyhalf.
Of course, they are experiments that may just succeed and the memories of Loftus Versfeld in June do enough to dispel overconfidence, because at one stage weakened Wales led.
This time any weakening of Wales my be as a result of arguments with clubs to get players released for practice, but this time the Welsh season is in full flight. The South Africans are just off their long, tough season of Super 14, Tests and Currie Cup, but they, too, should be fit enough and hardened.
If the Springbok front row stands firm it is hard to see where Wales would beat them, though kicking could play a serious part. Ruan Pienaar will be the goal-kicker and he is at best inconsistent. One the other hand the Wales have precise Stephen Jones to slot goals from them when they get close enough. They may well get close enough because Bismarck du Plessis and Schalk Burger are often penalised. (Having a dedicated refereeing coach on tour may well prove beneficial.)
And then, of course, there is the mercurial brilliance of Shane Williams who scored that brilliant try against the Springboks at mid year.
This could just be a truly great match – the match of the month.
Players to Watch: You will watch Shane Williams and you will watch the other left wing, Bryan Habana. Both are players to electrify a rugby match. There is always a frisson of excitement when the ball is heading their way. You will watch the return of Gavin Henson. He is always, not necessarily for rugby reasons, in the spotlight. This could be an occasion to show his talent. You will see a lot of Fourie du Preez and you will want to see if multi-talented Ruan Pienaar can hack it at flyhalf and if John Smit, who has so many sterling qualities, will be the power that the Springbok forwards coach Gary Gold believes that he will be. You will be interested to see if Victor Matfield can regain the line-out form that lifted him head and shoulders – literally – above all other line-out jumpers.
Head to Head: They may be at opposite ends of the field but the way they play may well bring Lee Byrne and Conrad Jantjes into contact. Both are excellent under the high ball, dashing forward to leap at it, and both enjoy attacking. At inside centre there is an interesting match-up of unusual strength and skill in the position where Jean de Villiers and Gavin Henson meet. At flyhalf there is the cool, old head of Stephen Jones against the talent of Ruan Pienaar. The interesting contest in the pack is Gethin Jenkins against John Smit and perhaps even more so the direct, wholehearted energy and power of Schalk Burger against the cunning wiles and skill of Martyn Williams.
2008: South Africa won 37-21, Pretoria
2008: South Africa won 43-17, Bloemfontein
2007: South Africa won 34-12, Cardiff
2005: South Africa won 33-16, Cardiff
2004: South Africa won 38-36, Cardiff
2004: South Africa won 53-18, Pretoria
2002: South Africa won 19-8, Cape Town
2002: South Africa won 34-19, Bloemfontein
2000: South Africa won 23-13, Cardiff
Prediction: Look at history and you say with ease that the Springboks will win. But the game is here and now and not about history. And here and now the Welsh believe that they will win – as they did in 1906 and as they managed, uniquely, in 1999. But we believe that Springbok power will prevail and that the Springboks will win by six points in a high-scoring game.
Wales: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Jamie Roberts, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Gareth Cooper, 8 Andy Powell, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Ryan Jones (captain), 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Ian Gough, 19 Dafydd Jones, 20 Dwayne Peel, 21 James Hook, 22 Tom Shanklin
South Africa: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 John Smit (captain), 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Brian Mujati, 17 Gürthro Steenkamp, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Frans Steyn, 22 Jaque Fourie.
Date: Saturday, 8 November
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT)
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Weather: Irrelevant. They are going to close the roof on Friday and leave it closed for the day. Presumably the climate will be perfect.
Referee: Alan Rolland (Ireland)
Touch judges: Alan Lewis (Ireland), George Clancy (Ireland)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)