Friday, 12 December 2014

Wales eye Springbok launchpad for World Cup

Wales will seek to end a six-year wait for a southern hemisphere scalp when they take on South Africa with one eye very much fixed on next year's World Cup.

The last Welsh victory over a SANZAR nation was a 21-18 win over Australia in November 2008, coach Warren Gatland's sole winning performance against either the Wallabies, Springboks or All Blacks in 27 matches since he took charge in 2007.

South Africa will not, however, be a roll-over, having notched up the year's sole defeat of New Zealand and also having only ever lost to Wales once in 29 clashes.

It promises to be a humdinger of a Test match at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, where Wales went down 34- 16 to the All Blacks last weekend after leading with 12 minutes to play.

"We were obviously disappointed last week," said Wales fly-half Dan Biggar. "We felt like we were in with a real chance after 68 minutes but we let it slip at the end.

"It's all about moving forward now. We've put it to bed and it's all about focusing on this week and making sure we put on a good performance and more importantly getting the win."

Biggar, as Gatland had also stressed, insisted there was not an underlying concern over fitness levels.

"I think our fitness has been good. We put quite a big shift in on Saturday night pushing one of the best sides in the world all the way," the Ospreys playmaker said.

"We're concentrating now on finishing the autumn series on a high."

The last time South Africa played Wales, the home side came back from deficits of 17-0 and 30-17 to triumph 31- 30 in Nelspruit.

"We know our record against the Southern Hemisphere isn't great," Biggar admitted. "In the summer we played a pretty complete game up until the last few minutes and then we let it slip.

"We can take a lot from that performance and hopefully we can push on and get the result on Saturday because that's all that matters."

- International window -
Gatland has made three enforced changes to his run-on team, Liam Williams notably coming in for injured Northampton winger George North.

Veteran prop Gethin Jenkins and hooker Scott Baldwin take over from Paul James and Richard Hibbard, who have returned to club duty with Bath and Gloucester respectively since Saturday's match falls outside the international Test window.

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has made eight changes to his team from the one that beat Italy 22-6 last weekend.

Prop Tendai Mtawarira, hooker Bismarck du Plessis, full-back Willie le Roux, and wing duo Cornal Hendricks and Lwazi Mvovo will all start.

The changes in the back three were required because Johan Goosen (Racing Metro), Bryan Habana (Toulon) and JP Pietersen (Panasonic Wild Knights), who started against the Azzurri, are not available, while the two changes to the front row are rotational.

"We will face a fired-up Welsh side this weekend. They played very well against New Zealand and it will be a tough end to our season," said Meyer, whose team opened their November series with a 29-15 defeat by Ireland before beating England 31-28.

"But we want to finish on a high and the focus this week has been on ensuring we keep on building on what we've done thus far this year."

For Gatland, the clash against the Springboks will be Wales' last before next year's World Cup in England, in which the Welsh have been drawn in pool that includes the hosts, Australia and Fiji.

Wales opened their November series with a 33-28 defeat by the Wallabies before an experimental side scraped past Fiji 17-13, and the coach was under no illusions of the value of playing the best teams in the world.

"The autumn (series) is not a competition, it's about using it to play against the best teams in the world who have come off really strong campaigns to prepare potentially for the Six Nations, which is our competition, and the World Cup," he said.

"What we're going to be judged on is our performance in the World Cup and our whole focus is on getting out of that pool in the World Cup.

"That's been the whole emphasis of this campaign and it'll be the same with the Six Nations."


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