Can Wales bounce back in the crucial second Test against South Africa?
Wales and world champions South Africa look set for a titanic second-Test encounter in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The Springboks won a thrilling series opener 32-29 last weekend, but Wales were only beaten by a Damian Willemse penalty with the game’s final kick.
Here are some of the key talking points heading into round two.
Springboks selection has divided opinion
South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber put the cat among the pigeons when he announced his team for Bloemfontein. Only lock Eben Etzebeth remains in Nienaber’s starting line-up from last Saturday, with his decision to make 14 changes being criticised as disrespectful by Wales great Sir Gareth Edwards.
Wales boss Wayne Pivac and captain Dan Biggar do not share Edwards’ view, with Biggar stating: “South Africa can pick who they want, and they are going to be strong whoever they put out”.
Nienaber’s logic revolves around balancing giving young players an opportunity with winning as he builds towards next year’s World Cup defence, but Wales must seize the moment and pounce.
A big day for Alex Cuthbert
There were many who thought that Cuthbert’s Wales career was probably over when he joined Exeter in 2018 and therefore ruled himself out of international contention because he did not meet the Welsh Rugby Union’s 60-cap selection eligibility for players plying their trade outside Wales.
But after moving to the Ospreys last summer, he attracted Pivac’s attention and took his chance superbly, shining in the Guinness Six Nations and now being preferred to Josh Adams – 2019 World Cup top try-scorer – against South Africa.
He wins his 52nd cap and needs one try to enter Wales men’s all-time top 10 list that features players like Shane Williams, George North, Ieuan Evans and Gerald Davies, which underlines Cuthbert’s quality.
Wales must improve their discipline
Wales were left kicking themselves at Loftus Versfeld, missing a golden chance to beat South Africa for the first time on home soil after leading 18-3 at half-time.
Ultimately, they were let down by poor discipline, having four players sin-binned by Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli and conceding 15 penalties to the Springboks’ seven.
Wales must remain on the right side of Australian official Angus Gardner in Bloemfontein, otherwise it could prove another frustrating afternoon. Pivac readily acknowledges it is an area that requires significant improvement during what should be another high-octane occasion.
Fly-halves are masters of their craft
Wales fly-half Biggar and his opposite number Handre Pollard might not earn the same rave reviews as perceived entertainer 10s like Beauden Barrett, Romain Ntamack or Finn Russell, but their standing in the world game is unquestioned.
Both players have had immense careers for their countries, with Biggar winning 101 caps and now captaining Wales, while Pollard guided South Africa to World Cup glory at England’s expense in 2019.
Between them, they have played 164 Tests and scored almost 1200 international points, and on Saturday they go into action as rival skippers. Whichever team triumphs in Bloemfontein, expect Biggar or Pollard to have had a major say.
Sam Wainwright closing in on Test debut
Saracens prop Sam Wainwright would probably have rubbed his eyes in disbelief if he had been told only a month ago that a Wales debut beckoned against South Africa.
The 24-year-old, who started playing at Rhyl Rugby Club, gained an unexpected call-up when Leon Brown was ruled out of Wales’ tour squad through injury. And after Tomas Francis suffered concussion during the first Test – he was then stood down by Wales’ medical team and has flown home – Wainwright gained a place on the bench for an appointment with the Springboks.
He can expect to join the action at some point this weekend as Wales aim to level the series.
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