Wales captain Sam Warburton says his team have no fear of playing the Boks in Saturday’s quarter-final at Twickenham.
The Welsh somehow conspired to lose 15-6 to an one stage 13-man Australian team at the weekend to sentence themselves to the half of the draw that pits them against the Southern Hemisphere powerhouses,
If Wales had shown more enterprise on attack and varied their play when they had the two-man advantage, they might have found the gaps to score tries but battered away one-dimensionally against a valiant Wallabies defence. Had Wales won, they would have had a relatively comfy quarter-final clash against Scotland. Instead they face the Boks, and if they win that game, probably the All Blacks in the semi-finals.
“The last time we played the Boks we beat them (in Cardiff last November) and we should have beaten them in Nelspruit (the teams played each other three times last year, twice in South Africa in June),” Warburton said. “Why would we think we can’t beat them again?
“There is no easy way to win a World Cup and we have always accepted that we are going to have to beat the best teams to do it. That has not changed,” Warburton said. “We are down that we lost a game we should have won but the talk in the change soon changed to taking on the Boks, a team we know how to beat after playing them a lot last year.”
After Willie le Roux had starred in the first Test in June for a comfortable Springbok win, the Boks narrowly won 31-30 in the second Test, at the Mbombelo Stadium with Warburton adding that two penalty tries awarded to the Boks in the game by referee Steve Walsh were contentious.
“We can take massive confidence from the fact that we could easily have won that game on their home turf if it had not been for the second penalty try in the final seconds. And then we beat them in the next game we played.”
Warburton admitted that South Africa will be a tougher proposition than Scotland but again said his team had the ammunition to beat the Boks.
“One thing this group of players does not mind is a challenge and it will be a tough challenge against the Boks on neutral territory,” the captain said. “That is what great teams are made of — being able to bounce back and I am more than confident we can do that because we have proved it to ourselves in the past.”
While the Welsh will continue to talk up their chances in a bid to get over the blow to their psyche, there was also physical damage inflicted by the Wallabies. Wing Liam Williams is out of the quarter-final because of an ankle injury and a major concern is the head knock suffered by key centre Jamie Robetrs, who will be undergoing the routine concussion protocols this week.
While the Welsh are pumping themselves up with the memory of beating the Boks in Cardiff last year, only the second victory they have enjoyed over South Africa in a hundred years, the reality is that the Bok team is significantly changed from the tired side that ended their long season at the Millennium Stadium.
In that match, the half-back combination was Cobus Reinach and Patrick Lambie, while Fourie du Preez and Handre Pollard will start on Saturday; the centre pairing was Jean de Villiers and Jan Serfontein, this time it will be Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel; the wings were Lwazi Mvovo and Cornel Hendricks, this time it will be Bryan Habana and, injury-permitting, JP Pietersen.
The forwards will also have a different look this time around. Flanks Marcell Coetzee and Oupa Mahoje are not at the World Cup and will be replaced by Schalk Burger and Francois Louw; Lood de Jager is likely to be in the second row for Victor Matfield; and Coenie Oosthuizen, who started in Cardiff at tighthead, will be on the bench for either Frans Malherbe or Jannie du Plessis, with the latter facing a fitness test on his suspect knee early this week.
Mike Greenaway in London
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