Matt Williams has been vocally suspicious of Taff hopes in recent days, and it’s pretty funny just how dismissive he is of them. However, one of the writers on the excellent ESPN Scrum.com has made the very valid point that the Welsh are coming into the tournament without the usual hoopla or barely-veiled truckload of acrimony that usually forms the body of their luggage.
The Spala experience that took so much blame for Ireland’s piss-poor performances four years ago looks to have upped Welsh fitness levels to freakshow heights. Their showing against England in Cardiff was built on fitness and grit, two of the most important components for any underdog team. And the Welsh are underdogs.
Grand, they snuck past Ireland due to an absolutely farcical refereeing error in the Six Nations, but they’re not a particularly good team. Their backline stars are aging [Stephen Jones, Shane Williams] or out of form [Lee Byrne, Mike Phillips], and their front-row is undercooked or just plain injured: both first and second choice hookers are missing, Adam Jones has only started two internationals this year and Gethin Jenkins hasn’t started a test match since November 2010.
The front five that they’ve picked to play South Africa is going to get plowed: Paul James, Huw Bennett, Adam Jones, Luke Charteris and Alun-Wyn Jones versus Tendai Mtawarira, John Smit, Jannie du Plessis, Danie Russouw and Victor Matfield? Lloyd Burns and Ryan Bevington on the bench against Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp and CJ van der Linde?
Fleshlumpeater Bakkies Botha out injured and Bismarck unforgivably not starting, there is way, way, waaaaaaaay too much power in that Bok front five for Wales to compete on an even footing. Bradley Davies not starting is an absolute mystery to me – I realise that without Bakkies and Juan Smith the Mother Of All Lineouts isn’t what it was in 2009, but they still have Spies, Matfield and Ironman Russouw as targets … is Luke Charteris going to mark all of them? I don’t think there’s a chance that they can shut the Boks down out of touch, and Charteris lacks the real hard-nosed physicality that Davies brings in the tight.
In the backrow it’s men against boys … literally. Brussouw against Warburton will be a fantastic contest, two really excellent opensides scratching and clawing each other somewhere near the ball. On the other flank, it’s a lot more clearcut: Schalk is going to dismantle Dan Lydiate, and if he doesn’t, big Willem Alberts will. Faletau might be on the receiving end of a lesson in athleticism from Pierre Spies, a serious flat-track bully; the track doesn’t come much flatter than a 20 year old No8 with only three international starts to his name and a pack retreating back on top of him at a rate of knots.
Hook is at 15 for the Welsh, and Priestland at 10 with Lee Byrne not even in the matchday squad; the Boks have Morne Steyn and then everybody else as usual. The Welsh backline subs are Tavis Knowle and Scott Davis, two whipper-snappers who haven’t had much of a chance to convince; the Boks go with Hougaard and Butch James. The centres? A big bosh-filled land of giants: Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie against Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts … little chance of any midfield breaking from either team with that level of size and experience in the middle of the park.
Boks by 10.