PREVIEW: Boks will benefit more if Wales raise their game

rugby21 June 2024 05:10
By:Gavin Rich
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Springbok Players @ Getty images

There was a statistic circulated in the Welsh media this week that summed up why the Springboks should get this World Cup cycle off to a comfortable winning start at Twickenham on Saturday - Eben Etzebeth has 119 international caps while the entire Wales pack has a combined 118.

Bok coach Rassie Erasmus is using the opportunity to spread his selection net a bit but not nearly as much as he did in his first game in charge against these opponents in Washington in 2018. The likes of new flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse, wing Edwill van der Merwe and the two players who will make their debuts off the bench, Ben-Jason Dixon and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, will get their first taste of international rugby in an experienced team.

It’s some way from being a full strength side, of course, but there’s enough firepower up front and X-factor, power (Andre Esterhuizen) and pace (Makazole Mapimpi, Van der Merwe etc) for the expectation to be that the Boks will break the current deadlock of five wins each over the last 10 matches in their favour - and do it with plenty to spare.

This game shouldn’t provide the surprise that the one at Loftus at a similar stage of the 2022 campaign did. It will be recalled that the Boks had to fight back from a big deficit to win with a last-gasp Damian Willemse kick. That was a different Welsh team.

Wales lost all six of their games in the recent Six Nations and they’ve been weakened this week by the injury enforced withdrawal of their co-captain from last year’s World Cup, Jac Morgan, as well as a phalanx of overseas based players unavailable due to this game falling outside of the international window.


The Boks also have players missing, but no-one would argue against the contention that the World Cup champions have far more depth to draw on than Wales coach Warren Gatland does.

Gatland spoke of a lock crisis earlier this week as he has a few experienced players unavailable, including the Six Nations captain Dafydd Jenkins, and British and Irish Lion Adam Baird, while on Thursday it was confirmed that Henry Thomas, selected at tighthead prop, has had to withdraw from the team.

Kieron Assanti moves up from the bench to start in Thomas’ place with Harri O’Connor coming in on the bench. Given the disruption and the callowness of the Welsh tight five, the smart money will be on the Boks dominating the set-pieces as the platform for what could be a big win, although often there is a bit of rust in the first game so maybe we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves and predict a 50 pointer. Although that is entirely possible.

Erasmus spoke this week of the need for his team to re-affirm that they could still do what they do well and what won them two successive World Cups so that a base can be created for he and his assistant coaches to build on in the quest to “become a much better team in 2027”.

The more pressing challenge though than that distant World Cup is the arrival of Ireland in South Africa on Tuesday for an eagerly awaited two test series and with that in mind Erasmus may well be hoping that Wales pitch and front his team for at least part of the game.

They do need a good workout before the Ireland series starts and the South Africans might welcome it if Wales are physical and take them to, as some of the Boks put it, dark places.


If the inexperienced Wales team can raise its level of performance it will also provide a proper test for some of the players Erasmus will be watching particularly closely, most notably fullback Aphelele Fassi.

The Hollywoodbets Sharks player has an extensive fan club but Erasmus hasn’t always been part of it, which is why Fassi has only three caps to his name, and has mainly played wing at international level until now.

Everyone knows Fassi can attack so one of those games where the Boks get all the ball and the backs, including the fullback, run through the opposition, might not be that helpful even if it does grab the headlines and build the confidence of the players. It is other aspects of Fassi’s game that need to be tested, and he needs to come through the examination, if he is to be entrusted with the role of Willie le Roux’s backup against Ireland in the absence of the injured Willemse.

Fassi has made strides towards improving his defence and aspects of his kicking game and positional play, a product of hard work and also the fact that he has been relatively injury free for a while now, but there are occasional defensive lapses still that can’t be afforded at international level (not that Le Roux is always perfect either, of course).

Given the go-forward ball that a solid forward performance could afford him, Hendrikse could turn out to be a Bok star in this game, rather like Herschel Jantjies did in his first game against Australia back in 2019.

The game is being played at Twickenham but the Boks enjoy having the England headquarters as their home venue away from home, as they proved with their 35-7 win over New Zealand in the buildup to the World Cup last August. Expect a similar result on Saturday.


South Africa: Aphelele Fassi, Edwill van der Merwe, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi, Jordan Hendrikse, Faf de Klerk, Evan Roos, Pieter-Steph du Toit (captain), Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch, Malcolm Marx, Ox Nche. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Frans Malherbe, Salmaan Moerat, Ben-Jason Dixon, Grant Williams, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Damian de Allende.

Wales: Cameron Winnett, Liam Williams, Owen Watkin, Mason Grady, Rio Dyer, Sam Costelow, Ellis Bevan, Aaron Wainwright, James Botham, Taine Plumtree, Ben Carter, Matthew Screech, Kieron Assanti, Dewi Lake (captain), Gareth Thomas. Replacements: Evan Lloyd, Kemsley Mathias, Harri O’Connor, James Ratti, Mackenzie Martin, Gareth Davies, Jacob Beetham.

Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)

Kick-off: 3pm

Prediction: Boks to win by 20 or more