The Springboks will look to break their Cardiff curse when they kick off their end-of-year tour against Wales on Saturday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The Principality Stadium has been anything but a happy hunting ground for the men in green and gold in recent times. They have lost their last four fixtures at the home of Welsh rugby, where they last tasted victory when Jean de Villiers and company triumphed 24-15 in 2013.
Because they play a similar brand of rugby, the Dragons have been a tough nut to crack for the Springboks, whose nail-biting 19-16 win in the two nations’ last meeting snapped a four-match losing streak against the men in red. That high-stakes 2019 World Cup semi-final showdown in Yokohama highlighted how evenly matched they are and it’s bound to be another cliffhanger.
Disregard the 54-16 walloping Wales took against the All Blacks at the weekend as they were without several star players who were on club duty due to the clash falling outside of the Test window. They’ll be significantly bolstered by a pride of British & Irish Lions who took the Springboks to the limit in the three-Test series earlier this year.
Wales are tactically equipped to counteract the world champions’ territory-based approach and their pack have stood up well to the renowned physicality of the Springboks. The X-factor comes in the form of coach Wayne Pivac, who gets his first crack at claiming a Springbok scalp.
The New Zealand-born mastermind took over the reins from Warren Gatland after the World Cup and after a rough first season, in which Wales won just one of their Six Nations assignments to finish fifth, he guided them to Six Nations glory this year.
Under Pivac, the Dragons have not only retained their hard edge and tactical nous but have also developed a sting in their tail. Opportunistic and clinical, they’ve created and converted more opportunities and scored an unrivalled 20 tries in their triumphant Six Nations campaign.
Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit are among the fastest and most predatory wings in the world and will ask plenty of questions of South Africa’s defence. Midfielder Jesse Kriel, a curious choice to start in the No.14 jersey in the absence of Cheslin Kolbe and Sbu Nkosi, is a good defender but he could struggle to contain Adams if the hosts are able to create a bit of space out wide.
Damian Willemse, who gets a rare start at fullback, can expect to be tested by high bombs and Wales would be well-served to further try to exploit the new-look back three with chips and grubbers to test their scrambling ability.
Going from the Lions series straight into the Rugby Championship took its toll on the Springboks and the few weeks they had to recuperate after the Southern Hemisphere showpiece would’ve done them wonders. In fact, it should prove decisive.
The 31-29 win over the All Blacks in the tournament finale would’ve been a massive confidence booster, affirmation that their game plan and structures are still all-conquering if executed correctly. Herschel Jantjies will play an important role in this regard as he fills in for Faf de Klerk, who’s missing the tour through injury.
He’s not as tactically polished as De Klerk and Cobus Reinach, who’s on the bench, but he’s known to rise to the occasion and deserves this opportunity to don the green and gold No.9 jersey for the third time having bided his time as a bench player for most of the last two years.
With their solid depth and a few weeks of much-needed R&R, the reinvigorated Springboks should get it done in a close one.