Ruddock rolls out big guns to make up lost ground

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The Independent Online

There was no sign of Dr Who here in the Welsh capital yesterday. David Tennant had been and gone after switching on the Christmas lights in Cardiff city centre on Thursday night. Mike Ruddock can only hope that the new Doctor had left his Tardis behind. The big man from Blaina could do with a time-travelling machine to turn the clock back.

It is only seven months since Wales and their coach were celebrating the first Grand Slam since the Doctoring times of Tom Baker and already the rugby public in the Principality are pining, Max Boyce style, for the days of Gethin Jenkins, Tom Shanklin and Dwayne Peel as longingly as they once did for the golden era of Gareth, JJ and JPR. The dark ages have returned to Welsh rugby, with a record 41-3 home loss to the mighty All Blacks and a demoralising moral defeat disguised as an 11-10 victory against the not-so-mighty Fijians.

Even accounting for the absence of the long-term lame, Wales have been a pale, ponderous shadow of the team that swept to the slam last spring with a 17-try flourish. Now, if they are to locate the road to redemption, they will have to find a way past the physical might of a Springbok side who beat the All Blacks in Cape Town in August.

"We know we're the underdogs," Ruddock acknowledged. "I'm looking for us to play with the determination of the underdogs but also with the skill of champions." The trouble is Ruddock's team for this evening's Test contains just five of the starting fifteen who made Wales the champions of Europe with victory over Ireland at the Millennium Stadium in March.

With five Lions still on the injured list (Jenkins, Shanklin, Peel, Ryan Jones and Gavin Henson) Ruddock has shuffled his available cards and come up with a combination - as Jake White, the Springbok coach, ventured to suggest yesterday - designed to meet Bokke beef with something like the Welsh equivalent. "They've obviously looked at the Springbok side and picked a team that can physically stand up to the test," White said. "They've gone for a bigger, more direct, back-line."

At full-back, the 6ft 3in Lee Byrne gets his first start against heavyweight global opposition, with the 6ft 2in Gareth Thomas shifted to outside-centre, in an attempt to summon some of the midfield clout that Shanklin brought to bear in the Six Nations, and the 6ft 3in Dafydd James recalled on the right wing. Ruddock has also picked a 6ft hooker, in Rhys Thomas, and the 6ft 9in lock Luke Charteris.

Whether the big boyos can rise to the challenge remains to be seen. Much will depend on which South Africans turn up - the Dr Jekylls yet to be beaten at home under White or the Mr Hydes who have only a 50-50 record on the road. The form of Meyer Bosman, the debutant 20-year-old Springbok outside-half, is also likely to be crucial. At a towering 6ft 3in and a stout 15 stone, he is hardly a flyweight of a fly-half. He hails from the eastern Free State - from the little town of Bethlehem.

Today's Millennium Stadium teams

Wales

15 L Byrne (Scarlets)

14 D James (Scarlets)

13 G Thomas (Toulouse, capt)

12 S Parker (Ospreys)

11 S Williams (Ospreys)

10 S Jones (Clermont Auv)

9 G Cooper (N-G Dragons)

1 D Jones (Ospreys)

2 R Thomas (Cardiff Blues)

3 C Horsman (Worcester)

4 R Sidoli (Cardiff Blues)

5 L Charteris (N-G Dragons)

6 C Charvis (Newcastle)

7 M Williams (Cardiff Blues)

8 M Owen (N-G Dragons)

REPLACEMENTS: M Davies (Gloucester), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Dragons), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Phillips (Blues), C Sweeney (Dragons), M Watkins (Scarlets)

South Africa

15 P Montgomery (Sharks)

14 C Jantjes (Lions)

13 J Fourie (Lions)

12 J de Villiers (W Province)

11 B Habana (Blue Bulls)

10 M Bosman (Cheetahs)

9 M Claassens (Cheetahs)

1 L Sephaka (Lions)

2 J Smit (Sharks, capt)

3 C van der Linde (Cheetahs)

4 B Botha (Blue Bulls)

5 V Matfield (Blue Bulls)

6 S Burger (W Province)

7 J Smith (Cheetahs)

8 J Cronje (Blue Bulls)

REPLACEMENTS: H Shimange (WP), O du Randt (Cheetahs), A van den Berg (Natal Sharks), D Rossouw (Blue Bulls), B Conradie (WP), D Barry (WP), B Russell (Sharks)

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