Jacques van der Westhuyzen

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen

Head of Sport

Preview: Pressure piled on Boks as confident Wales wait in Cape Town

The Boks have never lost a series to Wales, yet the visitors to South Africa are 80 minutes away from a shock win.

There are certainly bigger challenges awaiting the Springboks this year, but just two games into the Test season and already it’s a case of do or die for the team.

Expectations for the world champion Springboks are high following a good United Rugby Championship campaign by the local franchises, with the Stormers winning the trophy a few weeks ago, but after just two games the pressure is already on coach Jacques Nienaber and his team.

And they dare not come unstuck against Wales in Cape Town on Saturday – at the same venue where the Stormers beat the Bulls to lift the URC trophy and bring joy to thousands of South African rugby fans.

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The Boks started poorly in the series opener against Wales in Pretoria. They snuck a win at the death, thanks to a nerveless conversion by exciting fullback Damian Willemse, but there were cracks in the performance.

Then, in an effort to give all the squad members game time and reward several URC standouts, Nienaber opted to change 14 starting players for the second Test in Bloemfontein. Against an improved and confident Wales, the changed Boks nearly got away with a win, but lost with virtually the last kick of the game, ensuring Saturday’s match is a decider.

The loss in the Free State capital was a first for the Boks in South Africa against Wales and only a seventh by the visitors against South Africa in history.

In three previous series the Boks have always triumphed – 2-0 in 2002, 2008 and 2014.

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The Boks have won 11 times against Wales in South Africa, 22 times in Wales and five times on neutral ground. History tells us the Boks are the dominant team between the two, yet with 80 minutes to go in this series there is precious little between them.

Nienaber has gone back to what is seemingly his strongest and best lineup for the decider, with no less than 20 players out of the matchday 23 having played a part in the World Cup triumph of 2019. It is a settled, tried-and-tested combination and should always beat this Wales team, who won one game in a poor Six Nations campaign earlier this year, but have grown in confidence as their tour of South Africa has gone on.

Right now Wayne Pivac’s side look the better of the two – they are holding their own up front, they are defending strongly and when they get quick, front-foot ball they are asking plenty of questions of the Bok defence.

How will Nienaber’s team respond in what has become a mighty big game for the world champions. The Rugby Championship opener against the All Blacks, themselves involved in a huge Test series decider against Ireland tomorrow, is now right around the corner.

A first ever series loss to Wales, on home turf, is almost unimaginable.

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