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Springboks v Wales – Key Battles

Springboks v Wales - Key Battles

24 October 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld

Springboks v Wales – Key Battles

Titans from opposite ends of the earth will collide in ground-shaking positional battles when Wales and the Springboks square off in a blockbuster Rugby World Cup semi-final in Yokohama on Sunday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

Up front and out back, mouth-watering match-ups await. Functioning as a unit will be of the utmost importance, but key individuals will play pivotal roles in gaining the upper hand for their teams tactically, in the set-pieces, at the breakdown and in open play.

We highlight the key head-to-head battles that’ll have a major bearing on this epic semi-final showdown.

De Jager winning this battle will equate cutting the head off the dragon. Jones is that talismanic of a figure for this Wales side. One of the all-time greats – and arguably the best-ever Welsh player – Jones is one of the most iconic international captains of the past decade and the responsibility of leading his country into battle has brought the absolute best out of the behemoth.

Shaun Edwards on Monday said Jones, the world’s most-capped lock and Wales’ record cap holder with 132, has never been better and it’s hard to argue with the Dragons’ defence coach. The evergreen 34-year-old was named the player of this year’s Six Nations after leading Wales to Grand Slam glory and has been just as integral in guiding his side to the final four, his leadership proving particularly pivotal in the great escape against France last Sunday.

Far more than a composed captain, Jones well and truly leads by example, with the warhorse ranking third in the tournament with 62 tackles. De Jager is just as athletic and hard-working of a second-rower, making a match-high 15 tackles in the Springboks’ 26-3 win over Japan last Sunday, which makes this titanic tilt much more than just a chess-like lineout battle.

The workhorses of their respective sides will look to outdo one another across the park. Lock-cum-flank Du Toit is a freak of nature and has proven himself to be a man for the big occasion. They don’t come much bigger than a World Cup semi-final, so expect the two-time South African Player of the Year to fire on all cylinders. With his lineout prowess and slight size advantage, he has the edge in the set-pieces.

Tipuric has been his trusty, industrious self in the Welsh’s unbeaten campaign. He’s among the tournament’s top 20 tacklers with 47 hits, 15 of which, crucially, came against France. The 30-year-old still has more than enough tread on the tyres, having shifted gears like a Formula 1 driver, and is set to put on the afterburners down the finishing stretch. Where the out-and-out No.7 has the edge is at the breakdown, as he showed by making two key turnovers against Les Bleus.

Davies has been the standout scrumhalf of the tournament. He and De Klerk are very similar; they have excellent fundamentals, are natural attacking threats and top-class tactical kickers, but there’s no doubt Davies has outshone the Springbok No.9 in his execution on the game’s grandest stage.

His kicking from the base has not only been better but also more consistent than De Klerk’s. He’s also kept pillar defenders more honest, although it would be unfair to fault De Klerk here, as he’s following strict instructions from Rassie Erasmus to keep it on the boot. De Klerk is a great, pressure-driven defender, so he should be able to keep Davies in check, however, if he gets sucked into a play, the Welshman will look to snipe through or create an opening around the fringes.

Coming off a Man of the Match performance, De Klerk will enter the clash with an extra dose of confidence, even though many frustrated/critical South African supporters may, unfortunately, not share that same belief in the talented halfback, who just last year was up for the World Rugby Player of the Year award and was hailed as a giant-slayer nationwide.

Pollard hasn’t been the authority figure the Springboks hoped he’d be thus far. The uber-talent has been some way off his brilliant best, starting with his stuttering showing against the All Blacks. It’s not that the flyhalf has been error-prone, his botched attempt to field a high ball that led to a try for New Zealand is the only costly error that sticks out, but rather it’s been his inability to take the onus and marshall the troops that have hampered the South Africans. That said, the 25-year-old has improved with every outing and will see this as an opportunity to step out of the shadows and be the game-changer of old.

Biggar has been a sharpshooting soldier, who’s taken more than his share of licks only to dust himself off and get back up. Forced off with head injuries in the pool wins over the Wallabies and Fiji, the fighting spirit the 30-year-old has shown has surely been an added source of inspiration for his teammates. With both teams playing a conservative brand of rugby, the battle of the boot could prove decisive.

Adams is the joint top try-scorer of the tournament, along with Nkosi’s fellow South African speedster Makazole Mapimpi and Japan’s Kotaro Matsushima, with five five-pointers, which includes a hat-trick in the 29-17 win over Fiji, and also boasts the most clean breaks (13).

Nkosi replaces the arguably South Africa’s best player Cheslin Kolbe who has not recovered sufficiently from the ankle injury he sustained against Canada and flared up in last Sunday’s quarter-final.

The 23-year-old Nkosi can also deliver explosive performances like the man he replaces and has scored eight tries in his 10 Test appearances – his battle with the Welsh flyer Adams will be a key battle and a fascinating one.


Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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