Jonathan Davies: Only the very best of Wales will do now

Click to follow
The Independent Online

With South Africa coming over hellbent on bashing their way to an autumn grand slam, Wales are going to have to be at their very best to give them any trouble at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

With South Africa coming over hellbent on bashing their way to an autumn grand slam, Wales are going to have to be at their very best to give them any trouble at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

Since we are not sure what their very best is, this might still not be enough, but I wouldn't rule them out if they get it right.

One advantage the Welsh have is that they catch the tourists at the start of their invasion. The South Africans may be cock-a-hoop after winning the Tri-Nations series against Australia and New Zealand in the summer, but they still have to settle into a British autumn.

However, whereas we can rely on South Africa to play in the old Springbok style - they are going to be intent on giving all of us a bruising, make no mistake - it is more difficult to judge the Welsh. If they are all fit and on parade, they have a chance. If they are missing players in key positions they could be in trouble, because there is little strength in depth.

The South Africans look formidable. Their problems at the World Cup and at the beginning of the year are well behind them. They have gone back to basics and are ready to emphasise that they are a major rugby force again. I am glad to see it. World rugby needs a mighty Springbok team, and if we are serious about measuring ourselves against the best, now is time for our players to step up.

For Wales, in particular, matching them is going to be difficult, even if we recall the way the Welsh played in the World Cup almost a year ago. The adventurous, incisive rugby they produced then is still a wicked weapon and they have the ability behind the scrum to trouble any opponents, but getting the ball to the troublemakers is the problem.

The Springboks are bringing a massive pack. In Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield they have a pair of second-rows who are big and mobile, and their back row, with Joe van Niekerk and Schalk Burger, is powerful and aggressive. What Wales have to do is concentrate on the set-piece, an area neglected by Steve Hansen. Mike Ruddock knows how important it is to win your own ball, and I am looking forward to an improvement in the scrums and line-outs.

The second row could be a problem. Brett Cockbain picks himself, but with Robert Sidoli not playing well they may have to move Michael Owen to lock. I would much prefer to have him at No 8, where he can be more effective because he carries the ball well and gets across the gain-line.

Much depends on the Welsh players emerging unscathed from Heineken Cup action this weekend. It would help, too, if they have been a little more successful than the previous weekend.

I was not as despondent as most were. The difference between the Celtic League and the Heineken Cup, though, is that if you miss an opportunity in the Celtic League another one is likely to come along. If you miss one in Europe, that is usually that.

The South Africans are no slouches behind the scrum, but injuries at scrum-half have weakened them. Percy Montgomery is playing very confidently at full-back, though. His spell at the Dragons seems to have helped his game immensely. They say that travel broadens your horizons, and that seems to be true in Percy's case. He has adapted extremely well and is bursting with confidence.

I hope that Gareth Thomas and Stephen Jones are free to appear. Thomas must play at full-back, and Ruddock will listen to his skills coach, Scott Johnson, who reckons that Gavin Henson is best at No 12.

I wouldn't disagree with that at this stage but, generally, I believe a player should play where he plays with his club. Henson plays No 10 for Ospreys, and if you are going to shift him then I would prefer to see him at full-back, with Thomas switching to partner Sonny Parker at centre.

Comments