South Africa v Wales: Match preview, team news & key stats
|Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria Date: Saturday, 2 July Kick-off: 16:05 BST|
|Coverage: Radio Wales commentary will be available on Radio Wales Extra, BBC Sport Online and 882 medium wave, Radio Cymru, plus live text and match report on the BBC Sport website|
The international rugby series kicks off this weekend with Wayne Pivac’s Wales arguably having the toughest test of all when they visit world champions South Africa.
Wales have never beaten the Springboks in South Africa, losing all 10 previous encounters.
The class of 2022 open a three-Test series on the back of a shock home defeat against Italy on the final day of the Six Nations in March.
That loss resulted in Wales dropping to ninth in the world rankings with the Springboks currently first.
South Africa will not be short of motivation either. Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld is a 52,000 sell-out and, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it will be the first time Springboks have played in front of a full home crowd since they won the World Cup in November, 2019.
Throw in the first two Tests are also being staged at altitude, which the Wales players will have to adapt to, and you sense the challenge that awaits.
Ten of the Wales touring party were part of the British and Irish Lions that agonisingly lost 2-1 to the Springboks 12 months ago.
One Lions legend, Phil Bennett, will be honoured with Wales players wearing black armbands.
The former Wales and Lions captain died in June 2022. Bennett excelled during the 1974 Lions tour of South Africa, starting all four Tests as the visitors beat the Springboks three times and drew once. Bennett also scored a try in the second Test at Loftus Versfeld.
South Africa have named 10 of the 2019 World Cup final starting side in the team to face Wales although there is no room for fly-half Handre Pollard.
Elton Jantjies is included at 10 after Pollard arrived late in the Springboks camp having helped Montpellier win the Top 14 title.
Number eight Jasper Wiese starts after scoring a try for Leicester against Saracens in the Premiership final.
Wiese will be up against Tigers team-mate Tommy Reffell, who will make his Wales debut alongside back-row colleagues Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau.
Lydiate and centre George North return to international rugby after more than a year away from the Test match arena because of serious knee injuries.
Pivac has opted for Will Rowlands and Adam Beard as the second-row partnership, meaning 150 times-capped Alun Wyn Jones is on the bench.
Jones is joined among the replacements by fellow Lions player Josh Navidi and prop Tomas Francis who has been nursing a back injury as Dillon Lewis starts.
Cardiff scrum-half Tomos Williams provides cover for Kieran Hardy.
View from both camps
South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber: “Wales have been training together for a few weeks now and we have no doubt that they will give everything against us on Saturday.
“They are an experienced squad, and they have top-class players in their ranks — some of whom represented the British and Irish Lions last year — so we are expecting a hard grind of a Test.
“They have physical forwards and backs that spark something from nothing, so we need to deliver a quality performance in order to get our season off to a strong start.”
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac: “I think everybody knows what we’re coming into.
“We’re relishing the opportunity because we haven’t had a summer tour away as a group. They’re enjoying being in a different climate.
“It’s a massive challenge with the world champions in their own back yard and two Tests at altitude.
“It’s going to be a good test for us and it will show us exactly where we are. They’re going to expose some weaknesses I’m sure and it will give us a lot of things to work on moving forward.”
Head to head
South Africa dominate the 37 past matches between the two nations with 30 victories, six Wales wins and a draw in 1970.
After Wales celebrated a first victory over the Springboks in 1999 – in the opening match at the then Millennium Stadium – South Africa won 16 successive home and away games between 2000 and 2014.
The balance then tilted slightly, with the Springboks losing on four Cardiff visits before winning at the Principality Stadium in November 2021 in the last meeting between the two sides.
South Africa have triumphed in the recent crucial matches, beating Wales in the quarter-final of the 2015 World Cup at Twickenham and inflicting a 2019 semi-final defeat on the way to being crowned world champions in Japan.
South Africa: Damian Willemse; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk; Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, Jasper Wiese.
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Salmaan Moerat, Elrigh Louw, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Willie le Roux.
Wales: Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Nick Tompkins, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar (capt), Kieran Hardy; Gareth Thomas, Ryan Elias, Dillon Lewis, Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Dan Lydiate, Tommy Reffell, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Dewi Lake, Rhys Carre, Tomas Francis, Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi, Tomos Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Owen Watkin.
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Andrew Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland).