Peter de Villiers is probably a very tense man before Saturday’s Test between South Africa and Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
He went on this tour with the realisation that his head is on the block after the Boks’ stuttering performances in the Tri-Nations Tests – and despite the 53-8 win over Australia in the last encounter not much has changed in this respect. A win for De Villiers is a near-must.
De Villiers has also gambled hugely by selecting Ruan Pienaar at flyhalf for the tour and for Saturday’s Test – pointing to a confidence in Pienaar’s unproven prowess as a pivot at this level and also his immunity against injury.
There is also the selection of captain John Smit at tighthead in another compromise between being the best or just filling in, just as de Villiers did in coaxing Percy Montgomery to his century of Tests.
The difference is that there is no place to hide for Smit.
Bakkies Botha, who hasn’t seen action for some time, is another gamble. He, at least, has backup in Andries Bekker should he not last the pace or get injured in his 43rd start as Victor Matfield’s lock partner.
Wales are confident they can do it at home. They played their two Tests in South Africa with a hugely weakened side. They will have 74 000 supporters from the valleys who will try to sing them to victory; the Boks are not acquainted with the new global ELVs; Wales are in the middle of a season while the Boks are past theirs, although it must be said that 10 of the starting side played in the Currie Cup final.
And the referee is from the Northern Hemisphere – although the good news is that Alain Rolland, who refereed them in the World Cup final, is probably the best of the lot.
Matfield, who captained the Springboks in Smit’s absence because of injury, makes no bones about it: South Africa have to play it tight until they are in control. The weather conditions predicted for Saturday will also not allow a running game.
“I think we saw that we should play percentage rugby. I think it works for South Africa and that is how we play. The Welsh are very physical and carry the ball in contact. It’s going to be a tough match,” said Matfield.
He is backed in that view by the senior players but, until the Wallabies Tests, was not supported by De Villiers. It will be interesting to see whether the coach has changed his mind or whether his style will prevail.
Whether the lack of a real fetcher will hamper the Boks only Saturday will tell. To make up for that deficiency, the pack as a whole will have to commit as against the Wallabies. There won’t be opportunities for Schalk Burger, Matfield and their fellow forwards to roam the backline initially.
Expect the home side to be exceptionally physical at the breakdown.
It is certain that the Welsh pack will play as a unit and also that their loose trio will target Pienaar.
They will also try and scrum the Boks. They are convinced that the scrum is a Bok weakness and Smit especially will be targeted in the unfamiliar position on the right hand side.
It is a very, very good Springbok side. They have ten players who were on the field n the World Cup final; lots of experience; solid partnerships – outside of the front row and the halfbacks, of course – and speed on the wings.
South African style will be the key to success against Wales and possibly a successful United Kingdom tour.
“The conditions here make things completely different. There are also a few changes to the team and a few months have passed since we last played,” continued Matfield.
Matfield’s insistence on a structured approach confirms that the senior players are in control of the way the Boks play. And Bakkies Botha’s selection to partner Matfield further supports the suggestion that the Boks are focused on dominating up front.Tweet