Yes it’s Test time again! This month will provide us with a bumper crop of great contests, but this weekend sees just the one match between Wales and South Africa on neutral ground in Washington DC. Both sides are fielding plenty of new caps, and it will be an excellent opportunity for both teams to gauge the quality of depth they have ahead of a challenging assignment for Wales in Argentina and a gruelling three Test series against England for South Africa. Furthermore, it’s South Africa’s first outing with their new Coach Rassie Erasmus, so there will be plenty of motivation to get this new era in Springbok rugby off to a flying start. Wales meanwhile, will want to settle their new charges with some solid experience ahead of a daunting two-week trip to Argentina and having to deal with a rather dangerous looking Pumas side.
So without any further ado let’s get into the matchups emanating from some interesting selections from both Coaches.
South Africa vs Wales
Saturday, June 2nd
It’s going to be hot and humid in Washington on Saturday, as two experimental sides face up against each other. A strong chance of thunderstorms will mean in addition to the heat and humidity, a greasy ball will be on offer. Both sides will be fielding some experience sprinkled in amongst a group of relative newcomers, which should help to settle the nerves in what should be a challenging and edgy encounter. While both sides will be keen for a win, a solid performance under pressure in which the newer caps are really able to make a statement is likely to be higher on each Coach’s list of priorities this Saturday.
We think Wales are going to struggle here, and that seems to be a general consensus. From PRO 14 and Super Rugby, South Africa’s offerings are all fairly familiar, and we have to confess to being a fan of tighthead prop Wilco Louw, and feel that he has enormous potential. Alongside Louw, is Ox Nche on the loosehead, and with the experience of Chiliboy Ralepelle at Hooker this should prove to be a traditionally workmanlike Springbok front row. Nche has caught the eye on several occasions with the Cheetahs this year, and should be able to provide some much-needed X-factor as he is no stranger to the try line. For Wales it is hard to know what to expect here. The form of the three relatively inexperienced front rowers for Wales at PRO14 level has been noteworthy, but we feel that the cut and thrust of Super Rugby and exposure to the Rugby Championship the South African trio bring, should edge the contest in the Springboks favor. Perhaps more than anything it is the duo of replacement Sharks Hooker Armand van der Merwe and Stormers and Springbok loosehead Prop Steven Kitshoff (the “ginger ninja”), that are likely to really make life difficult for Wales in the final quarter, particularly if South Africa’s front three have already gained some dominance. We’re interested to see how Wales holds up here but think this should be South Africa’s front office all afternoon.
There is no denying there is some significant Test experience in the Welsh second row, but we are just not convinced that it is a combination to really cause South Africa too many problems. Bradley Davies has significant Test experience for Wales, but he has never really stood out for us. His partner Cory Hill, can be an exceptional player but has tended to blow hot and cold in his fifteen appearances for Wales. South Africa on the other hand have the exciting young talent of newcomer Jason Jenkins and the experience and bruising ball carrying skills of Pieter-Steph du Toit, who Captains the side and needs no introduction. The bench replacements for Wales and South Africa are both uncapped, but on the basis of his efforts with Super Rugby’s Lions, we are giving Springbok debutant Marvin Orie the edge here. The Springbok Captain is likely to have a huge impact at the breakdown and in the lineout, and consequently we once more give the nod to the Springboks here.
A certain gentleman by the name of Kwagga Smith gets a long overdue first call up to the Springbok jersey, and for us who will be lucky enough to attend this match in person, his presence on the pitch alone makes this match worth the price of admission. We have been wanting to see Smith in a Springbok jersey for almost two years now and are delighted that Coach Rassie Erasmus has seen the explosive raw talent of the flanker and given him the break he so deserves. If you don’t believe us watch this footage of Kwagga in action for the Barbarians against the All Blacks last year.
Probably South Africa’s most potent weapon on the park at RFK stadium on Saturday, expect plenty of fireworks from this character, and we can’t wait to see him in action. The rest of South Africa’s back row contingent are also impressive, especially the Sharks Daniel du Preez, and we feel that Teboho Mahoje is a player with potential even if he hasn’t quite found his groove yet in a Springbok jersey. Wales will be no slouches here, but will have their work cut out trying to contain Smith, so much so that we doubt they will be able to steal the show. We have to confess to seeing Welsh Coach Warren Gatland’s choice of flanker Ellis Jenkins as Captain, a huge leap of faith with only six caps. A bold choice but there is no denying that he has looked exceptional with Cardiff Blues in both the PRO14 and in Europe, but he really is going to have his hands full with Kwagga Smith. We’ve always been fans of Welsh number eight Ross Moriarty provided he can keep his discipline in check. Once again Wales will be competitive here but we feel that given the Springboks experience and the absolute X-factor of Kwagga Smith, South Africa should be able to dictate the pace of proceedings in this part of the park.
Well we’ve talked about X-factor, but in this part of the park, despite our complete lack of knowledge about Welsh scrum half and debutant Tomos Williams, we are handing the contest to Wales in the shape of Gareth Anscombe. We were exceptionally impressed with his performances in the Six Nations, which got better and better as the tournament progressed. South Africa also field an uncapped scrum half in the shape of Ivan van Zyl, but sadly we feel that Elton Jantjies is the weak link in the chain for South Africa at Test Level, despite a solid track record in Super Rugby with the Lions. Consequently, we expect Wales to be the more clinical at running the game with a few surprises up their sleeves, especially with Rhys Patchell waiting in the wings to come on for Anscombe in the final quarter, along with scrum half Aled Davies.
George North at centre instead of on the wing for Wales is always a surprising choice, but there is no denying that if he brings his A game to Washington on Saturday, South Africa are going to be in big trouble. Since his return to Wales after a stint in England, North’s form certainly seems to be coming back to him, so expect plenty of sparks here. His partner, Owen Watkin, is a bit of a unkown for us so we can’t really comment too much here. However,on the bench Wales have Hadleigh Parkes, and for us he has the kind of ability that can singlehandedly turn a game on its head. South Africa have the veteran skills of Jesse Kriel, but the Bulls player is renowned for being hot and cold as well as slightly predictable. South Africa are putting in a debutant Andre Esterhuizen alongside him and we just can’t really see the Springboks getting too much of an advantage over Wales, especially with North and Parkes seeking to cause havoc.
South Africa’s starting wingers Travis Ismaeil and Makazole Mapimpi are sadly unknowns to us, having not watched enough of this year’s Super Rugby, and the fact that both players are earning their first caps for the Springboks. Nevertheless we’ve heard that Mapimpi is quite the pocket rocket and are looking forward to seeing him on the Test stage. Fullback Curwin Bosch is set to be a big part of the Springboks buildup to the World Cup, and the Sharks youngster will really need to stamp his authority on this match and the position. Nevertheless, much as with the centres battle, we can’t help feeling that this is Wales contest to win. It’s good to see Hallam Amos get a start at fullback for the Welsh as we feel he is a player with considerable promise but who has suffered from a lack of game time. Meanwhile on the left wing, Steff Evans is just getting better and better, especially as he appears to have fixed his early defensive frailties. South Africa does have one potential game changer though waiting on the sidelines for them in the shape of Warrick Gelant. A powerful runner that can carve up huge parts of the park, Gelant is a player that South Africa are likely to put a lot of emphasis on in the build up to the World Cup. Despite this though we still hand the contest to Wales, given the greater experience of their back three.
A tough one to call, but despite the Welsh talent in the backs and their greater experience, we still think that South Africa’s overall physical presence and the X-factor of Kwagga Smith will see them win the day, provided they can cope with the sauna like weather conditions expected. It will be close and should provide a match of contrasting styles and hopefully some good running rugby, but South Africa to ultimately outmuscle a spirited and wily Welsh challenge by four points.