Predicting the Results of South Africa's European Tour

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistOctober 23, 2013

Predicting the Results of South Africa's European Tour

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    Heyneke Meyer’s Rugby Championship trials may not have resulted in the upset that South Africa was hoping for, but the tournament produced a myriad of positives for the team to work from.

    The Springboks did manage to take 100 percent record, back-to-back title-winning New Zealand to the wire at Ellis Park but were unable to fulfil the very specific criteria needed to turn the tide.

    Nevertheless, an autumn tour of the Northern Hemisphere makes for a promising chance to go back to the drawing board, assess the squad’s strengths and decide upon Meyer’s direction moving forward.

    Unlike Australia and the All Blacks, South Africa have just three pit-stops on their November schedule and will meet Wales, Scotland and France, in that order.

    Ahead of the coming trials, we predict just how one of rugby’s in-form sides will fare on their long-distance trip, with the travelling squad set to be announced in the next week.

Wales

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    Date: Saturday, November 9

    Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

    Time: 6:30 p.m. Local Time (BST)

    Referee: Alain Rolland

    Having not been to the Welsh capital for a Test encounter since 2010, South Africa face an almost unknown task for their tour opener.

    Warren Gatland announced his squad for the autumn series on Tuesday, with a roster including 13 players who featured on the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia earlier this summer.

    The most telling absences for the Welsh lie in Racing Metro’s Jamie Roberts and Cardiff Blues’ Alex Cuthbert, both suffering with injury and leaving the back line suffering in terms of physicality.

    The coming six weeks will be a massive examination for what’s likely to be a very make-shift Wales backs setup, with only Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Mike Phillips the only truly consistent components of the national side in recent years.

    It’s therefore this mass of new faces that’s likely to tell that tale for South Africa. Whereas Gatland might be debating a to whether it will be Dan Biggar, Rhys Priestland or Rhys Patchell at fly-half, Meyer has an ever-reliable presence in Morne Steyn.

    While the Scarlets stars of Rhodri, Liam and Scott Williams all bring a bright prospect, the trio are inexperienced and will likely be coming up against Jean de Villiers, JJ Engelbrecht and Zane Kirchner, all of whom are now comfortable in their national setting.

    Although Wales’ lineup will grow into its responsibilities with time, certain points look particularly vulnerable at this moment in time.

    Prediction: South Africa Win 37-24

Scotland

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    Date: Sunday, October 17

    Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh

    Time: 4 p.m. Local Time (BST)

    Referee: Jerome Garces

    Quite surprisingly, Scotland boast a 22.73 percent winning ratio against the Springboks which, while not all too impressive on its own, is a statistic almost 15 percent better off than Wales.

    The last time these sides met came in June of this year when Heyneke Meyer's side managed a  30-17 triumph in Nelspruit.

    While not the outcome they were looking for, Scott Johnson's side looked impressive for periods of the encounter and certainly had positives to take away from their summer despite winning only one June matchup

    It’s really hard to say just whether the Scots will be able to carry on that kind of momentum against such strong opposition, however.

    So many times over the last decade or so has the nation strung together a couple of results before jumping back to the drawing board for a side that relies so much on having its premier players fit and healthy.

    Johnson has named five uncapped players in his squad, with Glasgow Warrior Jonny Gray set to make his international bow alongside Castres-based big Brother Richie.

    There’s a rather telling gap in quality all over the park running in South Africa’s favour, with much of Glasgow and Edinburgh’s impressive club largely thanks to a host of their own Southern Hemisphere stars.

    That’s not to say Scotland don’t have quality of their own, but Johnson can only pray his side are able to recapture some of the form shown in South Africa, with 28 members of that touring roster being retained this time around.

    Prediction: South Africa Win 32-19

France

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    Date: Sunday, October 23

    Venue: Stade de France, Paris

    Time: 8 p.m. BST

    Referee: Wayne Barnes

    With politics seemingly playing its role in team selection, Francois Trinh-Duc, the in-form Montpellier fly-half helping to propel the club to the summit of the Top 14, has once again been left out of the French training squad, per Planet Rugby.

    Philippe Saint-Andre’s other big omission has been that of Clermont’s Vincent Debaty, with Castres prop Yannick Forestier stealing into the autumn squad instead.

    In truth, France hold perhaps the most enigmatic proposition for South Africa, who have managed to win 21 of their 38 Test meetings against Les Bleus.

    In terms of quality, the French have arguably as much at their disposal as the Springboks, it seems only a question of moulding those tools together.

    Mathieu Bastareaud, Maxime Medard, Wesley Fofana, Morgan Parra and Maxime Mermoz all bring considerable experience to the France back line, while Nicolas Mas, Thierry Dusautoir, Yannick Nyanga and Louis Picamoles all make for some dangerously seasoned pack members.

    Montpellier scrum-half Jonathan Pelissie also comes in as an extremely promising member of the team who could go on to cement his standing with the international squad further this autumn.

    As is only their nature, South Africa’s forwards looked strong in the Rugby Championship and looked to be leading New Zealand in their first tournament encounter until the sending off of Bismarck du Plessis changed things drastically.

    If the Springboks can keep a fit squad until that last autumn encounter, there’s a good chance of boosting morale with a win in Paris, although this tie holds potentially the most difficult task of the tour.

    Prediction: France Win 22-18