Wales will not roll over

2007-11-23 00:00

THERE is a new wind blowing through Welsh rugby, and the Springboks will be right to run on to the Millennium Stadium for Saturday’s Prince William Cup fixture in a wary mood about what their opponents could do.

While the Springboks go into this Test match with a coach they know won’t be coaching them beyond tomorrow, the Welsh know that their new mentor will be in the stands watching them. New Zealander Warren Gatland, a former coach of Ireland whose most recent job was with Waikato in his home country, hasn’t yet had any hands on experience with the Welsh team – but no-one in Cardiff is under any doubt that his presence is already being felt.

Those who are under pressure, and there are a lot of them in a Welsh outfit that failed to make the knock-outs of the recent World Cup, know it. So for them, tomorrow’s match is a last chance, a battle for survival if you like, and that is going to make the Welsh a super-hyped combination. Bok coach Jake White knows as much.

“There is no doubt they will come with everything they have got, because there has been a lot of talk in Wales about the fact that they are playing against us and then England in their first Six Nations game,” said White.

“That means they play against the teams that were in the World Cup final and obviously from their point of view it is right that they see this as an opportunity to get their rugby back on track. If they beat the two World Cup finalists, then something is going right for them.”

White is going into his last Test match in charge of the Springboks with a team severely depleted of the names that have served him so consistently well during the past four years. He went on record earlier in the week saying that South Africa could win the next World Cup if they keep the current team together, but very few of what he would call the current team are available now.

As a result of this, he has been forced to try a makeshift fullback in the form of Ruan Pienaar in the absence of Percy Montgomery, recall Ricky Januarie after months in the wilderness in place of Fourie du Preez, and blood a talented but admittedly still raw number eight in the form of Ryan Kankowski as Danie Rossouw takes time off to recover from a troublesome neck injury.

“It’s not going to be easy, we need to accept the fact they are going to play with everything they’ve got. They are playing in front of their home crowd and they are going to want to get a positive result,” said White.

Indeed, and John Smit, the Bok captain, was ready to acknowledge that such a result would be embarrassing for the Boks. “It is an extremely important game for us in that any loss would be a huge embarrassment,” admitted Smit.

“Every game is life and death for South African rugby players. People are trying to say it is a step down from the World Cup. But we have worked hard to become world champions and it would be amiss of us not to defend that responsibility.

“The most important thing for us is to forget about the World Cup. There are many more challenges, starting with Wales. They have a massive amount to play for because they will want to put the World Cup behind them and prepare for the Six Nations next season. Because we are now the world champions a win over us will be a massive jolt to their confidence.”

For the record, the win scored by Wales in the celebration fixture held to commemorate the opening of the Millennium Stadium remains the only defeat the Boks have suffered in a test match against Wales.

In a late change to the Welsh squad, Stephen Jones has withdrawn from the bench because of a thigh strain and will be replaced by Ceri Sweeney.

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