The second semi-final of the 2019 RWC sees the enigmatic Springboks tackle Wales for a spot in the final.
Sport is a funny thing.
A quick glance at the rivalry between these two sides after the turn of the 21st century would suggest that the Springboks have the wood over their Welsh counterparts.
Between 2000 and 2014, Wales lost 16 match-ups in a row against tonight’s semi-final opponents.
Not dissimilar to the Wallabies in the Bledisloe Cup, only five years ago – the Welsh vs South Africa match up was not really even a contest, as the Springboks beat down on a Wales side that struggled to compete with top-tier talent, and couldn’t make their mark on the world stage.
Fast forward to 2019, however, and things have changed considerably.
Wales have now won four straight against the Boks, and will look to push that number to five when the final whistle blows in Japan this evening.
The Welsh were dealt a major blow when Liam Williams went down at training with an ankle injury, that left him sidelined for the remainder of the tournament.
Leigh Halfpenny secures his place in the starting XV, slotting in at fullback, while, in a big boost, outside centre Jonathon Davies returns from injury.
He will partner Hadleigh Parkes in the centres, while their forward pack is unchanged from their last start clutch win over France.
15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies; 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Aaron Shingler, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin.
For South Africa, dynamo winger Cheslin Kolbe has succumbed to the ankle injury he picked up in the second half against France, so Sbu Nkosi will line up in his place on the wing.
It’s not a bad replacement, either. Nkosi has a very good strike rate in Test matches, dotting down eight times in 10 starts, while he has scored in his last three appearances.
His ability with ball in hand has been well documented in his time with the Sharks in Super Rugby, and, while the loss of Kolbe is a sizeable one, don’t be surprised if Nkosi stamps his mark on this contest early.
Faf De Klerk and Handre Pollard continue their relationship in the halves, whilst Eben Etzebeth and Lood De Jager will look to decimate the Welsh line-out at set-piece time, as they did with the Japanese last start.
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk; 1 Tendai Mtawarira, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 3 Frans Malherbe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Lood de Jager, 6 Siya Kolisi, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8 Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn.
The weather forecast suggests there is a bit of rain around for this game, so I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it descended into a kicking contest.
De Klerk is one of the best kicking scrumhalves in the game, while Dan Biggar’s boot is undoubtedly the Welsh’s greatest weapon.
Where I see a fundamental difference in the two sides is at set-piece time. The way the South African line-out and scrum have performed so far in the tournament have been mighty impressive, and the Welsh lack a little bit of potency in attack to counteract it.
Playing two kickers in Halfpenny and Biggar may spell issues for the Welsh if they need creativity, and to put points on in attack, with ball in hand, and I suspect they may fall a touch short of a Springboks unit that continues to grow in stature and confidence with every hit-out.
South Africa by 8.