The Springboks will take a crucial step on their road to the World Cup when they come up against Wales in Cardiff this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The other big game on a super Saturday of international rugby will see Ireland tackle England in Dublin, while Italy roll out the red carpet for Romania in San Benedetto del Tronto and France face Fiji in Nantes.
Wales v South Africa
Saturday, 19 August – 16:15
Wales showed what tricky customers they are in nearly doing the double over England over the past fortnight, following up a 20-9 home win with a narrow 19-17 away defeat at the weekend.
The clash at Twickenham was a major missed opportunity as they let a 17-9 lead slip against the ill-disciplined English, who in addition to losing captain Owen Farrell to a red card, conceded three yellow cards.
The biggest takeaway from their performances against England was their defence. The Dragons conceded just a solitary try in the two encounters while scoring four of their own.
The key, from a South African perspective, was how they leaked that lone try. England had tried everything to cross the whitewash and finally did so with a driving maul that sparked their come-from-behind win.
The driving maul is a staple of the Boks’ play but has been under-utilised this season. Expect it to be one of their primary weapons this weekend as the world champions revert to their tactical, power-based game.
Wales’ lineout was a mess and their scrum shaky, so the Boks will use their set pieces to assert dominance, gain field position, set up scoring opportunities and ultimately, power their way to a comfortable victory.
Ireland v England
Saturday, 19 August – 18:30
England may have pulled off a great escape last weekend and deserve credit for digging deep, but overall, it was another sub-par performance.
Their bluntness on attack is almost as concerning as their shocking discipline. They have luck, though, with Farrell someone sidestepping suspension for his shoulder-led high hit on Taine Basham.
Ireland’s lightning-quick ruck speed and clinical phase play will cause the visitors all kinds of problems while their stoic, structured defence will demand greater accuracy, patience and ingenuity from the English.
I do expect England to lift their game, but it won’t be enough to take down the world’s number-one-ranked team in their backyard as the Irish are simply too polished.
Italy v Romania
Saturday, 19 August – 18:30
Springbok supporters will get a glimpse of what to expect from Romania in the men in green and gold’s second World Cup pool game on 17 September in this clash against the Azzurri.
The Romanians are coming off a 56-6 thumping by Georgia in Tbilisi last weekend, so even a second-string Italian side (if Kieran Crowley goes that route) will run riot against them.
The performance, rather than the scoreline, is what’ll be most important for the hosts, as well as coming through the clash unscathed after they suffered a string of injuries in the 33-17 loss to Ireland last time out.
France v Fiji
Saturday, 19 August – 21:05
The World Cup hosts were rather rusty in their first game since the Six Nations last weekend, eking out a 30-27 win over Scotland thanks to a late Thomas Ramos penalty goal. That said, they led 27-10 and credit must be given to Scotland for their spirited fightback.
Fiji are flying high coming into this contest. They toppled Japan 35-12 in Tokyo last time out to make it three wins on the trot, having also seen off Tonga and Samoa, so this will be an interesting contest.
The Pacific Islanders will have their moments, but Les Bleus will bank a convincing win.