The second semi-final of this World Cup is something of the ‘forgotten child’ if you are to believe the media. All the hype is about the England and New Zealand semi-final being the top billing, but one of either Wales or South Africa are going to be in a World Cup final come Sunday afternoon.
This is an intriguing tie and one that defences are going to determine who wins. Wales have had their ‘blip’ with that poor performance against France, therefore they should be better this time out, while South Africa are proving to be at their efficient, if not pretty on the eye, best.
South Africa have made one change from the side that beat Japan 26-3 at Tokyo Stadium last Sunday, with the electric Cheslin Kolbe ruled out injured. S’Busiso Nkosi replaces him on the wing having started twice at this World Cup, against Namibia and Canada, scoring one try against Canada. Kolbe’s loss is a blow, but let’s be fair, South Africa aren’t into the whole ‘wide-wide’ game plan either, so wingers are more interchangeable for them than most.
Wales make three changes from the starting XV that defeated France 20-19 in the quarter-final. Jonathan Davies returns from injury, replacing Owen Watkin who drops to the bench, Ross Moriarty replaces the injured Josh Navidi at eight and Leigh Halfpenny comes in at 15 for the injured Liam Williams, who sustained an ankle injury and is out of the Rugby World Cup.
For me, losing Navidi and Williams is too much for Wales to get over and something that South Africa will be happier to see than most. Williams is a threat with ball in hand, more so than Halfpenny. South Africa’s rush defence would not have been looking forward to facing Williams, so this and the general pressure from the men in green has them as 9 point favourites in this one.
In a tight game, where a line break here or there could win it all for you, Wales are just down to the bare bones when it comes to men who can unlock this Bok defence. Therefore, I can see only one winner.
First score of the game
Wales have won each of their past four test encounters with South Africa, however, South Africa have won each of the previous two World Cup meetings between these countries, 17-16 in the pool phase at RWC 2015 and 23-19 in the RWC 2015 quarter-finals.
This is going to be a very tight game on the scoreboard and in between the white lines. Taking into account, in Rugby World Cup history, 83 matches have been won by seven points or less with Wales being involved in 16 of those. (More than any other team in RWC history) Wales have also been involved in a record five RWC matches that were decided by a single point.
Of those five, they won two and lost three. For this reason and for the sheer pressure his side will be under when they have the ball, I envisage Dan Biggar being clever enough to take some points whenever or wherever he can get them. The out-half, should his side start the better, is a beautiful striker of the ball and won’t be afraid, on the biggest stage, to give a drop goal a shot.
So, at huge odds of 33/1, a Wales drop goal to be the first score of the game is highly appealing. It would certainly make the rest of the match even more enjoyable.
To score a try in 80mins
You may have noticed from reading above that this game is going to be tight…. so, where is the value in this market of try-scoring if there even is going to be a try.
One thing is for sure. South Africa are going to look to bully Wales and indeed anyone else who looks at them weirdly, into submission with their forwards. This is only the fourth time in 25 matches under Rassie Erasmus that South Africa have gone with a 6/2 forwards-to-backs ratio on the bench. They mean business and they are going to be putting it up the ‘aul’ jumper when they are not kicking it into the sky from box kicks and garryowens.
One of South Africa’s most effective tools, aside from their defence and kicking game, is their maul. With starting hooker Mbongeni Mbonambi listed as favourite for anytime try scorer at 9/5, it think it might be worth looking at his replacement Malcolm Marx for anytime try scorer too.
After all, if the maul isn’t working in the opening minutes, South Africa are not going to abandon it for some slick backline moves and a ‘joue joue’ style of attack. So, should Mbonambi not cross early, or even if he does, Marx is good value for when he comes on at 11/4 to score too.