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Opinion

The great unofficial preview of the 'unimportant' semi-final

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Roar Guru
25th October, 2019
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3597 Reads

Wales and South Africa play on Sunday to see who will reprise the role of the 2015 Wallabies, losing gallantly to New Zealand.

Several English fans and pundits have talked themselves into a stupor and now believe they are a chance of turning the All Blacks over. We can call the first semi-final the deluded semi, and the second the daylight semi.

Who is the better team in this consolation friendly between number three and four?

Wales has forgotten how to lose lately, according to canny coach Warren Gatland, and has completely forgotten how to lose to the Springboks. Our favourite Roar analyst, the Archbishop of Cardiff, reckons they are too mentally tough for the Boks if it is close down the stretch.

The last time the Welsh exited the World Cup, it was the big slow Springbok No.8 Duane Vermeulen who was toughest and most calm in the big moment, setting dead-legged Fourie du Preez free to run to the corner past the cover defenders as if through quick sand, and send Wales home crying.

But since that time, South Africa have wandered about in the rugby universe, trying to find a coach, a plan, money, proper jerseys, a wing not on the secret sauce, and a rush umbrella defence capable of stopping the big boys.

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Wales just kept on winning.

Here we are, in the biggest match of Wales’ rugby history. The boys in red led by a Welsh legend Wings the size of loose forwards, seasoned, hard lads, and a flyhalf who does not miss when it counts. The best No.13 in the world. A halfback who is always onside and the best red-headed backup northern hemisphere No.10 left in the tournament.

How do the teams compare?

Wyn Jones versus Frans Malherbe is not a beauty pageant. Neither has ever passed up a plate of meat. When they burp on the bind, the rest of the scrum has to fight nausea. Their binds are illegal in most countries; Malherbe’s is considered deviant in most of the Middle East. However, both are on the tiebreaker kick-team.

Wyn has a wicket drop goal, apparently; learnt as a bouncer in Swansea. The Boks edge this one-on-three dual, but only because of uber-reserve Vincent Koch on the bench.

On the other side, Tomos Francis is up against a penitent beast playing for his rugby life, and when he and his substitute find themselves weary, no tenderness will be shown: the Ginga Ninja, Stevie Kitshoff, will trot on with his bowlegged canter, and make life even more miserable. Both Saffa props are extremely strong tacklers. Big advantage Boks.

Ken Owens will not be overshadowed by Bongi Mbonambi, but 40-minute Malcolm Marx is the world’s best reserve hooker. South Africa has completed 57 of 57 throw-ins, and their hookers score and snaffle and carry and offload. South Africa 3, Wales 0 thus far.

The second row is a Bok bloodbath. Rassie Erasmus likes 20 per cent of his squad to be locks. Alun Wyn Jones is a bold institution, a sacred totem, a Celtic talisman, a prince of a man, and the single most prolific purchaser of ear bandages in the UK. But the firm of RG Snyman, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Franco Mostert and Pieter-Steph du Toit will bankrupt any opponent.

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Eleven Bok lineout steals and counting. Very few missed tackles, and a steady diet of crashball to soften up the already brittle Welsh tight forwards. South Africa 6, Wales 1.

The loose trios are even, because Wales lost their best three exponents. Still, the Boks’ loosies are too ponderous at times, Siya Kolisi has a bum knee, du Toi is. in the final analysis. a fast fit lock and, collectively, Bok loose forwards don’t know how to make Jerome Garces happy, so any physical dominance will be negated. South Africa 10, Wales 4.

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Extra points for a couple of Bok scrum penalties (Garces usually rewards set piece superiority) and lineout steals, but a Wales point for breakdown literacy. South Africa 12, Wales 6.

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Gareth Davies is really fast. He wants to play No.10 for the opposition. His newborn is named Genia. He and Faf de Klerk will bother each other, but Faf is a pocket Hercules who is fond of tackling 10’s before they even have the ball. But he can really be poor – nobody knows who is what here.

Faf can lose his mind, and his box kicks get progressively worse as game wear on. Wales gets one back, and halfback points are doubled: South Africa 12, Wales 8.

Dan Biggar and Handre Pollard are the same person. South Africa 13, Wales 9.

The midfield battle is juicy. Hadleigh Parkes won’t be able to keep Damian de Allende in front of him; but Jon Davies is twice the player Lucky Am is, right now. Probably all four of these guys will just negate each other, and then Frans Steyn will come on and steamroll somebody, perhaps a fellow Bok. South Africa 15, Wales 11.

The Welsh wings are huge, fast, mean, smart and better than the inexperienced Boks wings. Except at running, swerving stepping. But fair play: Wales has the wood. South Africa 15, Wales 13.

Leigh Halfpenny is the Tomas Lavanini of backline scrumcap wearers. He looks angelic without it, sinister with it. He can kick, has good position and is fast. Willie le Roux is hot and cold; when he is hot, he boils over. When he is cold, he has hands of stone, and feet of clay. South Africa 15, Wales 14.

Gatland is more cold-blooded than Erasmus, who smiles even when gutted. One gets the feeling Rassie enjoys life more than Warren. But Gatland figured out how to split a series in New Zealand. South Africa 15, Wales 15.

Card risks: even.

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Historic mists of destiny: South Africa by 1.

SA wins by 8-15 points. Alun Wyn Jones delivers a tear-jerker speech. Man of the match goes to Duane Vermeulen, for that fend at the end that bended Ken.