Wales will be looking for their first-ever win against the Springboks on South African soil today in Durban, the first of a two-Test series.
After a compressive 34-12 midweek victory against the Eastern Province Kings, Wales coach Warren Gatland has called on a familiar team to tackle the unsettled ’Boks.
“We started the tour well on Tuesday against EP Kings, but it’s important we go out on Saturday and perform to the level we know we can,” Gatland said. “A Test series in South Africa is always a tough challenge, but we are excited by it and looking forward to getting out there on Saturday.”
A half-back pairing of Mike Phillips and Dan Biggar is to feed a well-established British and Irish Lions-filled backline featuring Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts and George North, who was named on the wing despite reportedly suffering a recent illness. They will provide a stern defensive test for a Springbok team depleted by injury and self-imposed exile.
The ’Boks’ centers corp has been stretched thin by an injury to captain Jean de Villiers and Frans Steyn’s abrupt decision to leave the squad just days before the match.
As such, Heyneke Meyer’s team features six changes from last week’s comprehensive victory against an invitational World XV, many more than he would have liked.
“It’s definitely been the toughest few weeks for me,” Meyer said. “You plan for five months, you can’t wait to get going and then suddenly you get curveballs from all over. It’s been tough ... losing some quality centers within the space of a week or a week-and-a-half.”
In De Villiers’ absence South Africa are to be led by 37-year-old Victor Matfield, who is to make his return to Test rugby three years after retiring. Jan Serfontein is to replace Steyn.
Meyer has relied heavily on veterans to plug gaps in the side, with Bakkies Botha stepping in to replace injured star Eben Etzebeth.
Prop Gurthro Steenkamp is to celebrate 50 Test caps after he was called back to the front row.
For both sides the match will mark a new phase in preparations for next year’s World Cup. Wales are coming off a disappointing Six Nations campaign that featured losses against Ireland and England, and will look for a historic win to set the tone.
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