Will the Dragon roar?

2010-06-05 00:00

THE Dragons have done it just once in 100 years, but there will be wailing in the Welsh valleys if the Springboks are not beaten for a second time in Cardiff this afternoon.

The only Welsh success against the Springboks in 23 internationals since 1906 came in 1999, but today they have an excellent opportunity of doubling their winning record.

The Welsh, with an uninterrupted build-up, are fielding their strongest available team in front of passionate, vocal support at the Millenium Stadium. The Boks, in contrast, have been hastily assembled with their preparations disrupted by the Super 14 final, injury and the late withdrawal of centre Butch James.

There is also a Barbarian feel to these Springboks, a mix of the overseas, the former, the second string and a couple of current internationals. Coach Peter de Villiers, with an unwanted Test squeezed into a congested programme, has set out to rest senior Springboks after the Super 14 final while providing his overseas-based players with a stage to parade their skills ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup.

This has left the Springboks vulnerable. Only three of today’s team, centre Jaque Fourie, captain John Smit and veteran lock Victor Matfield, are certain of their places in a full-strength Springbok team against France in Cape Town next Saturday.

Ironically, the late changes have at least provided the Boks with two established combinations with Juan de Jongh joining Stormers team-mate Jaque Fourie in the midfield, while Matfield is now alongside his Bulls partner, Danie Rossouw, in the second row.

The Springboks’ problem will be one of structure and cohesion after just a couple of practices this week. They certainly have the individual talent to bother and beat the Welsh, but whether they can gel and hold their shape for 80 minutes, both on attack and defence, is doubtful.

Critical to the outcome will be the Boks’ ability to impose themselves at forward. The presence of Matfield in the lineout, and a strong front-row — even if CJ van der Linde is out of position on the loosehead — should provide them with a strong set piece. And if the loose trio of Joe van Niekerk, Francois Louw and Dewald Potgieter can match the opposition at the breakdown, then the Boks will be able to squeeze the life out of the Welsh pack.

They will have to if they are to win. The Welsh are missing the British Lions quartet of wing Shane Williams and physical forwards Andy Powell, Gethin Jenkins and Martyn Williams, but they still possess a workmanlike pack and potent backs. There are six British Lions in a back division which also features 18-year-old wing Tom Prydie, who became Wales’ youngest-ever international in the Six Nations this year.

Powerful centre Jamie Roberts, who was to be countered by the abrasive Butch James, will provide a searching debut Test for De Jongh while the physical, powerful and vocal Mike Phillips, who modestly rated himself the best scrumhalf in world rugby during the Lions tour, will fire up the Boks.

The danger is that the Boks, although rich in talent, are largely of the mixed-and-matched variety and they will obviously lack the organisation of a squad of players who have been working together regularly in a team environment.

And if they are seduced into trying to play entertaining Barbarian-type rugby on this anniversary of the Millenium Stadium, they will be punished by the swift, skilful Welsh backs. But if they can play to their traditional strengths, maintain their focus and exploit their forward power by playing direct rugby, they have the individual quality to upset the Welsh. And that would be a revealing comment on the current depth of South African rugby.

SPRINGBOKS

15 Frans Steyn, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Odwa Ndungane, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Joe van Niekerk, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 BJ Botha, 2 John Smit (c), 1 CJ van der Linde.

Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Alistair Hargreaves, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Meyer Bosman, 21 Zane Kirchner, 22 Bjorn Basson.

WALES

15 Lee Byrne; 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 James Hook, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tom Prydie; 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Mike Phillips; 8 Ryan Jones (c), 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Jonathan Thomas, 5 Deiniol Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Paul James.

Replacements: 16 Huw Bennett, 17 John Yapp, 18 Alun Wyn Jones, 19 Rob McCusker, 20 Richie Rees, 21 Dan Biggar, 22 Andrew Bishop.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)

Kick-off: 3.30 pm (SA time).

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