South Africa v Wales: Revamped Springboks selection spices up Bloemfontein battle
|Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein Date: Saturday, 9 July Kick-off: 16:05 BST|
|Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio Wales Extra – available via BBC Sounds, 882 MW and BBC Sport Online, Radio Cymru plus live text and match report on the BBC Sport website|
They say never change a winning side. Well, that mantra has been well and truly ripped up this week in South Africa.
There was already plenty of jeopardy involving the second Test between Wales and the Springboks in Bloemfontein.
Following South Africa’s last-gasp win last weekend in Pretoria, Wayne Pivac’s side already knew they needed victory to keep the three-match series alive.
Since Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber announced on Tuesday he was controversially making 14 changes to the starting side, the build-up has heightened.
In total, 19 alterations from the 23-man match-day squad that only just scraped a last-gasp victory over Wales.
Opinion has been divided. On one hand, it is bold and revolutionary according to some South Africa judges as they applaud Springboks giving opportunities to fringe in-form players.
In contrast, it is disrespecting their opponents and devaluing the series according to none other than Wales and British and Irish Lions legend Sir Gareth Edwards.
Whatever your viewpoint, it has certainly spiced up the second Test as the series moves to South Africa’s Free State province.
‘Don’t call us a B team’
The resounding message from South Africa is do not call this weekend’s selection a ‘B’ team.
To be fair, the Wales camp have not. The term was used in a South Africa press conference when Nienaber was asked whether he would be upset if his team was described with such negative connotations.
Wales, who have only made one change with Alex Cuthbert replacing Josh Adams, have publicly stressed this South Africa side will pose as much of a threat as last week’s more established outfit. The criticism has arisen from outside.
Wales have a good relationship with the South Africa coaching team. Pivac and team manager Martyn Williams had dinner with their counterparts during a pre-tour recce earlier this year.
While Pivac knew Nienaber was considering changes for the second Test, even he has been surprised at how many were announced.
Wales faced a starting side last weekend that included 10 World Cup winners. Tried and trusted combinations that also helped seal a 2-1 series success over the Lions last summer.
This time around Wales face a different challenge as Nienaber uses all of his 42-man squad in the opening two games.
Lock Eben Etzebeth is the sole starting survivor from Pretoria with Malcolm Marx, Vincent Koch and Damian Willemse named as replacements.
The rest are players given a chance to impress with the defence of the World Cup title looming on the horizon in France next year.
These are in-form individuals as well. Stormers uncapped number eight Evan Roos was named United Rugby Championship (URC) player of the season.
Recalled flanker Marcell Coetzee has been dominating opposition back rows for Ulster and Bulls regularly over the last few seasons.
Harlequins centre Andre Esterhuizen was awarded the players’ player of the year award in the English Premiership. Those are just a few examples.
There remains an experienced core with Etzebeth winning his 99th cap and 2019 World Rugby player of the year Pieter-Steph du Toit back from injury and joining Coetzee and Roos in the back row.
Captain Handre Pollard will steer the ship as captain and fly-half.
‘Silent bullies and inflicting pain’
South Africa regular captain Siya Kolisi, resting this weekend, admitted Wales had got under the skin of the Springboks in Pretoria.
One of the new boys selected, albeit an experienced prop Trevor Nyakane, suggested that will not happen again.
“I think most teams try to do that when it comes to us,” said Nyakane.
“You can fight fire with fire but you must also be smart. You don’t want to be sent off the field for saying something ridiculous or doing something that’s not worthy of the Springbok colours.
“For us it’s going to be tough and we know they’re going to try their best to do that (get under our skin).
“The only way we know how to do things is to be silent bullies. That’s exactly what we’re going to do.
“We want to inflict pain, our physicality on them. So if they’re going to be talking or whatever, we’ll let them do what they do best and we will do what we know how to do best.”
For the passion of Loftus Versfeld last weekend, expect something similar in Bloemfontein this weekend with both games being played at altitude.
‘Bloem’, is known as the City of Roses and is the capital of the Free State province.
It is an area that Nienaber knows well having grown up here.
The Toyota Stadium will host its first international for four years, since England were the visitors, with supporters travelling far and wide.
“I have been in Bloem for quite some time and it’s been a big part of my life. Bloem has always been nice to us,” said Nienaber.
“When we coached and played here it has always been a graveyard for some big sides.
“It’s a special and tough place to come and play and it is always nice to come back.”
Bloemfontein is regarded as South Africa’s judicial capital and this Springboks side will be looking to serve its own justice this weekend.
The ground has been labelled by Springboks players for opposition sides as “begrafplaas” in Afrikaans which is translated as “graveyard”. Pollard says the aim is to bury Wales’ series hopes in it this weekend.
Wales chose to stay in Johannesburg this week and only fly 48 hours before kick-off to Bloemfontein, a decision that has been queried by the South Africa media.
Nyakane, who spent the first four years of his career in the Free State representing the Cheetahs and labelled the Bloemfontein arena as difficult to breathe with not a lot of oxygen available.
Expect another hostile environment but remember Wales managed to thrive in the Pretoria cauldron.
As the tourists bid to become the first Wales side to defeat the Springboks in South Africa at the 12th attempt after just failing at the 11th, there has been a suggestion Pivac’s side are in a lose-lose situation because of Nienaber’s choices.
The detractors says win and there will always be an asterisk against this fixture because of the Springboks selection.
Lose and they can’t beat South Africa’s so-called second-string side.
Pivac’s side will not buy into that and the old adage remains, you can only beat what is in front of you.
Sir Gareth wants Wales to give the Springboks a “good tonking” because of the revolutionary selection policy.
Any sort of win will be Wales’ focus. Then it would be all eyes on a Cape Town decider.
Another loss for Pivac’s men and it will just be South Africa vindication for replacing one Springboks winning team with another.