It’s a battle of North vs South in the second semi-final in Yokohama which sees the winner of the Southern Hemisphere’s Rugby Championship – South Africa, up against the Northern Hemisphere’s Six Nations champions – Wales.
It is the men from Britain who have all the recent bragging between these powerhouses, having won the last 4 encounters. The most recent meeting was on last year’s end of season tour when the Welsh were victorious 20-11 which saw them complete a first-ever clean sweep of the Autumn internationals. 2019 started in much the same way for Wales as they claimed the Six Nations crown en route to their 12th ever grand slam. They began their campaign in Japan with a solid win over Georgia and backed that up with a superb first-half performance against the Wallabies which was enough to see them home. In one of the matches of the World Cup so far, Wales showed resilience and resolve to see off Semi Radradra and a spirited Fiji outfit, before 3 late tries saw them survive a scare against Uruguay. They ran into a red-hot French team last week who had Wales on the ropes for the best part of 50 minutes in Oita. One swing of the elbow later and Wales were back in the game, coming from 19-10 down to claim a thrilling 20-19 victory.
It was a strong start to 2019 for South Africa, with a big win over the Wallabies in Jo’burg and a stunning draw with the ABs in Wellington seeing them lift the Rugby Championship for the first time. They followed this with back to back wins over Argentina, creating an ideal build into Rugby World Cup 2019. Their campaign didn’t open the way they would have planned as they were beaten 23-13 by the All Blacks on day 2 in Yokohama. Since then, the men from the republic have looked superb, coasting to huge wins over Namibia, Italy and Canada. South Africa faced the might of the host nation Japan last week in Tokyo. They were successfully able to weather a first-half onslaught before putting the game to bed with 15 minutes to go, courtesy of the sheer physicality of their forward pack. As all Welsh fans will remember they were the team to knock Wales out of the cup 4 years ago when they came from behind to score a 75th-minute matchwinner courtesy of a Duane Vermualen flick pass and a super Fourie Du Preez finish.
Just the one change for the Springboks with excitement machine Cheslin Kolbe ruled out with an ankle injury. He will be replaced on the right-wing by the more than capable S’Busiso Nkosi. Intriguingly, Malcolm Marx will again come off the bench this week, despite looking impressive in his 44 minutes against the Brave Blossoms. There’s good news and bad news for Wales. The inspirational Jonathan Davies has recovered from a knee injury to take his spot at outside centre. Unfortunately, Liam Williams and Josh Navidi’s World Cups are over after Williams succumbed to an ankle injury and Navidi was forced home with a grade 2 hamstring tear. They have competent replacements in the form of British and Irish Lions Leigh Halfpenny and Ross Moriarty. Captain Alan Wyn Jones is set to run out for his 18th RWC match, the most ever for a second rower and a man the great Jake White described midweek as “a leader who looks destined to lift the World Cup.”
Faf De Klerk vs Gareth Davies
In a game full of giants, it’s perhaps the two little men who will have the most say on the outcome come Sunday night. Faf De Klerk has been one of the form players of this World Cup. He bosses this big South African pack better than anyone else, and then provides pinpoint service for Handre Pollard at 10. Davies, on the other hand, has the best sniping ability around and possess a lethal right boot, capable of punishing teams who aren’t prepared. South Africa will be well aware of the threat the Welsh half poses after he scored the first try against them 4 years ago at Twickenham courtesy of a chip and chase.
Siya Kolisi vs Justin Tipuric
Justin Tipuric is the perfect Welsh number 7. He is excellent over the ball and tops the tackle count more often than not, and can be described as the unsung hero of this Welsh forward pack. The Osprey’s captain will have the task of leading the defensive line against this mammoth Boks forward pack. The Bear – Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, has returned from injury in great form carrying hard over the advantage line and working industrially in defence. He was inspirational against the Japanese pulling off several bone-rattling hits and has combined brilliantly with Duane Vermeulen and Pieter Steph du Toit to form a lethal back row.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis; Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones (C); Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Aaron Shingler, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Owen Watkin.
South Africa: Willie Le Roux, S’Busiso Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Tendai Mtawarira, Mbongeni Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi (capt), Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn.
Wales would be counting their lucky stars this week after they were outplayed by the French in Quarter-Final 3. They play a safe game based on quality kicking and astute defence. These tactics were good enough to see them home in the Six Nations, where they beat several quality sides by strangling them out of the game. However, so far this World Cup they have been put under real pressure by Australia, Fiji and now France. South Africa is a far better side than those 3, and it would require an inspired defensive performance for Wales to make it through to the big dance for the first time in their history. It’s a battered Welsh team with an injury list that includes – Gareth Anscombe, Ellis Jenkins, Toby Faletau and now Liam Williams and Josh Navidi. South Africa has a monster forward pack and even without Kolbe, enough strike power out wide to create havoc. I predict the floodgates will open in the second half and the Bokke’ will go through to their first RWC final since 2007.
Spring Boks by 10…