Transformed Wales eye stunning series victory in South Africa

Dan Biggar. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)

Dan Biggar. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)

Wales hope to complete a stunning transformation from the laughing stock of rugby to conquerors of world champions South Africa by winning the series-deciding third Test in Cape Town on Saturday.

Four months ago in Cardiff, Wales hit rock bottom in the final round of the Six Nations as they conceded a late try and lost at home to perennial strugglers Italy.

Champions the previous season, Wales finished second last in the standings after also losing to Ireland, England and France.

The Springboks, winners of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and a series against the British & and Irish Lions two years later, became overwhelming favourites to win all three Tests against the visiting Welsh in July.

TV analyst Joel Stransky, kicker of the drop goal that won the 1995 World Cup final against New Zealand, summed up the mood in the republic as he wrote off Wales.

“It is not that I disrespect Wales, but I cannot see them being a formidable challenge for the Springbok side,” he told the Sunday Times.

“Wales struggled in the Six Nations. They lost to Italy. We are No 1 in the world with good reason. If ever there was a chance to blood new talent it is now.”

The tourists had other ideas, though, and after a last-gasp 32-29 first Test defeat in Pretoria, they won 13-12 in Bloemfontein last weekend to create the chance of a first series triumph in South Africa.

There has been drama galore with Damian Willemse kicking an added-time penalty to win the first Test and Gareth Anscombe slotting a 79th-minute touchline conversion to snatch victory in the second.

The reactions of rival coaches Jacques Nienaber and New Zealand-born Wayne Pivac have been starkly different when it comes to selections.

READ | Springboks heavy favourites to beat Wales in final Test – bookies

‘Disrespectful’

Nienaber made 19 changes to his matchday 23 for the second Test, triggering an outburst from Wales legend Gareth Edwards, who called the massive overhaul “disrespectful” to the tourists.

The Springboks have made a further 15 alterations – including 10 to the starting line-up – for Cape Town with captain and flanker Siya Kolisi among those recalled.

A surprise was the retention of scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse, who won only his third cap in Bloemfontein, with long-time first choice Faf de Klerk on the bench.

“It is all about form and Jaden impressed last weekend,” explained Nienaber. “The pressure is on him now because Faf is a fighter and will want his starting place back.”

Pivac has twice made just one change among his starters, with the return of left wing Josh Adams for the series decider necessitated by an injury to Alex Cuthbert.

Captain and flyhalf Dan Biggar and tighthead prop Dillon Lewis retired injured during the second Test, but were declared fit to play in Cape Town.

Lock Alun Wyn Jones, who has won a world record 152 caps for Wales, is a towering figure on the bench and keen to put behind him yellow cards in the first two Tests.

With everything to play for, instead of the dead rubber most Springbok supporters anticipated, Biggar believes the world champions read too much into the 2022 Six Nations results.

“We had a bad day at the office in our opener against Ireland, but definitely should have won against France and could have won against England,” said the playmaker.

“A lot of credit must go to Wayne (Pivac) and his management team, who did not overreact after the Six Nations.

“We have rolled up our sleeves, worked together, and have a chance of winning a series in South Africa for the first time.”

This is the first three-Test series between the Springboks and Dragons after three 2-0 wins for South Africa.

Saturday’s Test kicks off at 17:05.

Teams:

Springboks

15 Damian Willemse, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Trevor Nyakane

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Elrigh Louw, 22 Faf de Klerk, 23 Willie le Roux

Wales

15 Liam Williams, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 George North, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar (captain), 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Gareth Thomas

Substitutes: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Sam Wainwright, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Owen Watkin