South Africa are in prime form while Wales will need to dig deep
Knockout rugby officially starts at the Rugby World Cup this weekend with two of the most bruising sides in the international game going head-to-head in what should prove to be a real belter at Twickenham.
South Africa lock horns with Wales to kick-start the quarter-finals and it’s the Springboks who are chalked up as strong 3/10 favourites on Saturday. Only four weeks ago Heyneke Meyer’s men were on the back end of one of biggest upsets in world sport but the jilted juggernaut has roared back into form.
The Boks piled on 22 tries to top Pool B and ran up an aggregate 144-22 score in their past three matches, albeit against a second string Scotland and USA and a poor Samoan side. There’s no doubt South Africa’s shock opening loss stunned the Rainbow Nation into action but with far more firepower outside and a big, dominating pack, the two-time champions should squeeze into the semi-finals.
But there’s a fair school of thought to suggest, despite the truckload of injuries, Wales could be better prepared for this showdown. Warren Gatland’s players came through the ‘Group of Death’ whilst conceding only two tries across their four games and should be battle-hardened following consecutive fixtures against England, Fiji and Australia.
The flipside is, the Dragons have had less preparation time for this game and have crossed the whitewash just three times since mauling Uruguay in their ribbon-cutter. Wales’ one-dimensional approach cost them dear against the Wallabies last weekend – failure to pick up a five-pointer against 13 men was criminal – but their brave, courageous and steely resolve should ensure this clash remains tight.
Liam Williams is the latest casualty and Gatland’s group now consists of five fly-halves with the squad severely stretched and down to the bare bones. But the Kiwi boss will send his troops out in the hope of luring the Springboks into a dog-fight, similar to what we saw against England and Australia. From there, Dan Biggar’s unerring boot could easily kick the underdogs into contention.
The Welsh must improve at scrum-time – an area Australia dominated – and the players must overcome their horrid record against southern hemisphere foes. The Dragons have lost 22 of their previous 23 matches against the southern hemisphere opposition and all five this century at World Cups.
Their sole success came in the last head-to-head duel with South Africa but the Springboks have dominated this fixture for years, with a W27-D1-L2 return from the previous 30. However, seven of the last eight were settled by a single-figure margin and that’s also proven the case in five of the last eight Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
South Africa are undefeated against Six Nations opposition at a World Cup since 2003 and in six of their previous seven internationals against England, Ireland, Wales or France, their margin of victory was fewer than 10 points, again pointing us in the direction of a reasonably low-scoring Springboks win.
As already mentioned, the Rainbow Nation possess just as much brawn across the park to match the Welsh physicality but their superior match-winners and slightly more adventurous game-plan should prove pivotal in a squeaky-bum showdown. Wales +8 on the handicap holds plenty of appeal at 19/20 but a South Africa victory by 1-12 points looks the best value selection at 29/20.