South Africa vs. Wales: 5 Key Battles for Nelspruit Test
Wales arrive in Nelspruit battered and bruised both physically and mentally after their humbling at the hands of South Africa last week.
Warren Gatland’s men were destroyed 38-16 in a five-try mauling by the Springboks, and their Kiwi coach will be looking for a response from his players.
Wales have never beaten South Africa on their home soil, and it would seem unlikely that they can turn that sort of thumping around to claim a first, historic win on Saturday.
With that being said, stranger things have happened.
Here are the key battles.
The Beast vs. The New Boy
Adam Jones endured a nightmare 100th Test appearance, coming off after 20 minutes as he labored against Gurthro Steenkamp.
He has now been left to stew on that performance with Samson Lee taking his place in the No. 3 jersey.
He faces a different starting opponent in Tendai Mtawarira, with the man they call The Beast reclaiming his spot.
Lee comes in with a burgeoning reputation and has the chance to make the shirt his own against a player who can be a destructive scrummager if in the mood.
This tussle will have a huge bearing on whether Wales can get anything going from their set pieces.
Le Roux vs. Williams
Willie le Roux was the star of the show for South Africa, having a hand in four of their five tries and terrorizing the Welsh defence.
Coach Shaun Edwards has already joked that he's thinking about "locking him in the toilet before the game," per the BBC.
However, what Wales could really do with is Liam Williams doing his best Leigh Halfpenny impression.
With his trusty boot and ability to break a game open and score tries, the Lion is a big miss for this Welsh team.
Le Roux is in the form of his life, and it is up to Williams to match him to provide a spark for Wales.
Louw vs. Turnbull
Francois Louw was one of the star turns for South Africa in the first Test.
Wales have reacted by dropping Aaron Shingler for Josh Turnbull to try to nullify the Bath man, per Simon Thomas of WalesOnline: “Josh Turnbull takes over from Aaron Shingler as Wales look for more physicality at the breakdown.”
It's one thing to hope for a more even contest, but quite another to achieve it against a man of Louw's talents.
Du Preez vs. Phillips
After fearing for his place, Mike Phillips has been retained by Warren Gatland in the No. 9 jersey to go head-to-head once again with the great Fourie du Preez.
Per Simon Thomas of WalesOnline:
There has been a growing clamour this week for Gareth Davies to be handed the Wales No.9 jersey in the wake of the first Test defeat to South Africa. Gatland himself had singled out the Scarlets try-machine for praise following his vibrant debut off the bench at Durban’s Kings Park. And the notion that Phillips would make way for the 23-year-old seemed to gain credence when forwards coach Robin McBryde confirmed Lions could be among the men to be axed.
However, Phillips stays, with the coaches hoping his physicality and experience will get the better of the Springbok scrum-half.
Davies will once again be used later on with the game more liable to break open, but Phillips has a huge job to ensure his opposite number hasn’t done irreparable damage by then.
Vermeulen vs. Faletau
It was South African power that overwhelmed Wales so comprehensively last week, so they know they need to muscle up this week.
One man who can match the Springbok bulk is Toby Faletau. The No. 8 must be strong in his ball-carrying and destructive in the tackle if he is to dominate the exchanges with opposite number Duane Vermeulen.
The home team's back-rower is adept at busting holes out wide to create offloads for others. Faletau needs to show he can prove just as effective for the tourists.