Sat, Nov 24, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Wales to face Springboks in a `very bizarre' match

AFP , CARDIFF

"It's very odd, it's very bizarre, there's no getting away from that."

The words of Wales caretaker coach Nigel Davies regarding today's match against world champions South Africa at the Millennium Stadium sum up the feelings of many rugby followers.

For the final act of the international game this year should surely have been South Africa's 15-6 World Cup final win over England last month.

However, a veneer of context has been added to this match as a result of events at the World Cup.

This fixture, as well as being South Africa's first since Springbok skipper John Smit lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy, will also be Jake White's last Test as coach of the Springboks.

Meanwhile Wales, who if they had not lost to Fiji would have played today's opponents in the World Cup quarter-finals in France, are in a curious position.

After sacking former coach Gareth Jenkins less than a day after their Fiji defeat, Welsh officials were obliged to find a coach to pick a team for today's fixture before they appointed a permanent replacement.

The result was that Davies was put in charge for this match only.

And with Kiwi Warren Gatland, the former coach of Ireland and Wasps, set to take charge of Wales full-time next week, this match could well mark the end of Davies' involvement with the national side.

It definitely represents a Test swansong for White.

After four, often turbulent, years in charge where he was assailed by politicians for not including enough non-white players in the side while simultaneously being censured by senior figures from South Africa's Afrikaner rugby heartland, White has decided to call it a day.

The last straw appeared to be when officials re-advertised his job while the World Cup was still in progress.

Ever since the World Cup final just about everyone in South Africa from President Thabo Mbeki down has been singing White's praises.

But for White the backing has come all too late in the day.

His final Test team features nine starters from the World Cup final, including dashing wing Bryan Habana, back-row Schalk Burger and talented center Francois Steyn while Sharks No 8 Ryan Kankowski makes his Test debut.

Davies meanwhile has ended the international exile of Gavin Henson, the "glamour boy" of Welsh rugby, and paired him at half-back with Ospreys teammate James Hook.

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