South Africa v Wales: Different Springboks test awaits for Wales’ British and Irish Lions
|Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria Date: Saturday, 2 July Kick-off: 16:05 BST|
|Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio Wales (incl Radio Wales Extra and 882 MW), Radio Cymru and BBC Sport Online, plus live text and match report on the BBC Sport website|
For Wales flanker Josh Navidi and the rest of the British and Irish Lions who toured South Africa last year, the difference in the country 12 months on is stark.
Ten of Wayne Pivac’s party that have travelled to South Africa this summer were part of Warren Gatland’s squad for the 2-1 Test series defeat which was played in contrasting circumstances.
Covid-19 regulations meant the three-Test tour was played in front of empty stadiums in the one Cape Town venue.
Fast forward almost 12 months and Wales now play the Springboks in Pretoria and Bloemfontein before finishing in Cape Town.
With restrictions relaxed last week in South Africa, it will be the first time crowds will be present to watch Siya Kolisi’s side at home since they won the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
“It feels different to last year with lockdown when we could not go out as much,” Navidi told the Scrum V podcast.
“It is nice to see people out and about and return to normal life, just being able to go down to the mall and have a look around and see a lot more than compared to last year.
“We only really saw the four walls of the hotel last year and it’s nice to get out this time and enjoy a bit more of the culture.
“Everywhere we go we are getting stopped by people telling us how buzzing they are that we are here.
“It is nice to see, even when we are in the gym, people are asking us for photos and wishing us all the best, although not too much!”
This series will start with a capacity crowd at Loftus Versfeld of just under 52,000 fans and will produce the largest attendance for a Springboks and Wales international in South Africa.
“It will be massive to have the crowds back in the stand whereas last year there was nobody in the stand, apart from the boys on the sidelines who were not playing,” added Navidi.
“It will be nice to see the boys back filling the seats and just to experience the atmosphere will be amazing.”
Few observers from either side will give Wales a chance against South Africa over the next couple of weeks.
Pivac’s side have not played since they were humbled at home by Italy in the final game of the Six Nations in mid-March to complete a tournament where Wales finished fifth and only managed one victory against Scotland.
“It is about trying to put the things we did wrong right,” said Navidi.
“That [Italy] game is a bit sour with us and we cost it ourselves because we did not play too well.
“It’s about having a positive effect moving forward. We have three big games coming up and we can’t dwell too much on that [Italy game].
“It is still sitting there though and we know we have to put a big performance there for the Welsh fans.”
Wales have never registered an away victory against the Springboks in South Africa in 10 previous attempts, and the first two Tests are at altitude.
Cardiff flanker Navidi, 31, insists the Wales camp believe they can be successful in the series.
“It’s tough to play here in South Africa with altitude being a massive factor,” he said.
“We are hoping to get three wins and we have to come out here to win.
“People are going to put us down and stuff but we have to back ourselves and hopefully we can prove everybody wrong.”