The Autumn Internationals come to a close this weekend as Wales welcome South Africa to the Principality Stadium looking to go undefeated during November.
It would extend a winning run that runs back to the win against Italy last March and through the Autumn tours to the Americas, but this will arguably be the toughest test Warren Gatland’s side will face in that time as they look to make it nine victories on the bounce.
That is despite facing the Springboks in Washington back in June, with both sides fielding drastically different sides to those that will line up on Saturday evening in Cardiff.
Since then South Africa have settled into life under former Munster coach Rassie Erasmus, claiming a 2-1 series victory over England before finishing second in the 2018 Rugby Championship. The undoubted highlight being a 34-36 win over New Zealand in Wellington.
This Autumn has seen the Springboks narrowly defeated by England at Twickenham, but bounce back with impressive wins over Scotland and France, with Erasmus keen for his charges to finish the season with a win in an effort to gauge their progress ahead of the World Cup.
As a result he has named an unchanged side to that which overcame the Scots last week, with Wasps’ Willie Le Roux at full-back, the dangerous Aphiwe Dyantyi on the wing, Handre Pollard running the show from fly-half, the experience Duane Vermeulen at number eight and World Rugby Player of the Year contender Malcolm Marx at hooker.
Siya Kolisi leads the side from the openside flanker spot, but can count himself lucky to be involved after receiving no punishment over a headbutt at Murrayfield last weekend.
South Africa: Willie Le Roux, Sbu Nkosi, Jesse Kriel, Damian De Allende, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Handre Pollard, Embrose Papier; Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Frans Malherbe, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (c), Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Duane Vermeulen
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Thomas Du Toit, Vincent Koch, Eben Etzebeth, Francois Louw, Ivan van Zyl, Elton Jantjies, Cheslin Kolbe
Warren Gatland has also kept changes to a minimum when comparing this Saturday’s team to that which beat Australia two weeks ago, with the only change coming at full-back as the Head Coach rewards those which overcame the Wallabies.
Leigh Halfpenny is ruled out having not recovered from a concussion, so Liam Williams starts at full-back with Owen Watkin providing outside backs cover from the bench.
Jake Ball can maybe count himself a little unlucky to miss out on a spot in the 23, but Cory Hill gets the nod on the bench with his greater mobility likely to offer more late in the game.
Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies; Nicky Smith, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun-Wyn Jones (c), Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rob Evans, Dillon Lewis, Cory Hill, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Dan Biggar, Owen Watkin
The physical battle will play a big part in the outcome of the game, with the Springboks operating with one of the biggest forward packs in world rugby. However, Wales will take confidence from how that subdued Australia in this area two weeks ago.
There is clearly a huge amount of trust placed in the defensive system run by Shaun Edwards, which the home team will hope can keep Handre Pollard quiet in his playmaker role.
From there it’s up to Gareth Anscombe to bring those outside him into play. Scotland showed that if you can hold on to the ball for two or three phases then South Africa will narrow in defence very quickly.
If Wales can work some front foot ball space will open up for Liam Williams, Jon Davies, Josh Adams and George North to make ground out wide. Convert chances into tries and there’s no reason it can’t be four from four this Autumn.