Rhys Priestland: Wales can end the Springboks jinx

Fly-half is fit to face South Africa next week and believes his side can win at the ninth attempt

Rhys Priestland is something of an odd man out in the Wales squad, as quickly becomes apparent when the customary topics of conversation crop up at the team's headquarters in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The glory, glory Lions tour of Australia a few months ago, dominated by Welshman and their head coach Warren Gatland? Sorry, Priestland was recuperating from a second bout of Achilles tendon trouble and not selected.

How about sumptuous memories of the last time Wales played England: the 27-point thrashing that secured the Six Nations Championship title last March? Er, no, the Scarlets fly-half was busy enduring his first round of Achilles aggro – so his most recent encounter with the English was a self-confessed nightmare at Twickenham in 2012.

Okay, let's turn to next week's opponents for Wales in Cardiff: the world's second-ranked team, the Springboks. "People ask you your proudest moment in rugby and lining up for the anthems when we played South Africa in the 2011 World Cup was probably mine. I have real fond memories of that game," says Priestland.

Now, that's more like it – until you recall that Wales were beaten 17-16 that day in Wellington, New Zealand, with Priestland guilty of missing a decent dropped goal chance near the end.

Mind you, that match does at least bring Priestland – who looks likely to regain his Test place next Saturday from Dan Biggar, who played in the Six Nations, and Rhys Patchell, the youthful pick on the summer's non-Lions tour to Japan – on to common ground with his team-mates. None has ever beaten South Africa.

Indeed, Wales have downed the Boks just once in 26 attempts, when the Millennium Stadium was christened in June 1999. This dismal record inspires a mix of gallows humour, a new battle plan laid out by Gatland and another Lion rampant, Wales's captain Sam Warburton.

"I sort of knew Ireland were going to beat Australia," Priestland jokes of the pool result in the other half of the 2011 World Cup draw that made Wales's defeat to the Boks unexpectedly useful in seeing them through to a quarter-final against Ireland and on into the last four.

Priestland had stepped in as first choice at short notice before the tournament when Stephen Jones was injured, and he kept the hallowed Wales No 10 shirt throughout the 2012 Grand Slam. "They're a real physical team," Priestland says of South Africa. "It's going to be a big test for our squad but we've got some physical boys as well so I'm sure it will be quite a brutal encounter.

"Sam Warburton spoke this week about the 2003 England World Cup team and how they dominated the northern hemisphere but also took southern hemisphere scalps. We've come so close so many times. I've got full faith this squad is going to do it sooner rather than later but I've been thinking that for the last few years as well."

You can bracket Wales's eight successive losses to Australia – whom they meet in Cardiff on 30 November, with Argentina and Tonga in between – since 2009 in that statement, while the New Zealand tale is mostly All Black, with no Welsh win in the last 25 meetings.

Priestland uses humour to deflect the next obvious point: if the England team of Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson and Co are Wales's new yardstick – they won 10 in a row against the southern Big Three up to and including 2003 – what happens next? "Ah, well, we'll start with one, I think, and see how we go from there," says Priestland.

It is perfectly understandable for the 26-year-old to be bright and cheery regarding his own form and fitness – a sparkling Scarlets win at Harlequins in the Heineken Cup three weeks ago grabbed English attention, and Gatland's backs coach Rob Howley said on Thursday: "Each of our 10s has a different skill set and Rhys has started the season well."

Last year Priestland played for Wales but recalls how his "body was in bits, with strapping to both knees, both shoulders, both elbows, my back hurting – it was a real drag getting through games and training."

He ruptured his Achilles in December and it gave way again just before the Scarlets' Pro 12 semi-final in Ulster in May, leading to a long dark night of the soul in Belfast, when Priestland locked himself in a hotel room as his club-mates celebrated their last match of the season.

As for those southern hemisphere scalps, Wales anticipate Springbok bombs raining down on their back three, and Jean de Villiers running hard at their fly-half. Mike Phillips is expected to start at scrum-half having had no more than what Priestland calls "mickey-taking" in the camp over his sacking by Bayonne.

"The one thing you can guarantee is we'll keep working as hard as we can," says Priestland – but while he says Wales at their best can be "a match for anyone" he is not predicting a run of 10 big wins just yet.

Eight in a woe: Wales have lost every one since 2004

Jun 2004 South Africa 53-18 Wales - Pretoria

Nov 2004 Wales 36-38 South Africa - Millennium Stadium

Nov 2005 Wales 16-33 South Africa - Millennium Stadium

Nov 2007 Wales 12-34 South Africa - Millennium Stadium

Jun 2008 South Africa 43-17 Wales - Bloemfontein

Jun 2008 South Africa 37-21 Wales - Pretoria

Nov 2008 Wales 15-20 South Africa - Millennium Stadium

Jun 2010 Wales 31-34 South Africa - Millennium Stadium

Nov 2010 Wales 25-29 South Africa - Millennium Stadium

Sep 2011 South Africa 17-16 Wales - Wellington

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own